Ukraine is not directly involved in these discussions, despite the US commitment to “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”. US and Ukrainian officials said the US had not pressured Ukraine into committing to any particular plan or directly urged it to sit down with the Russians.
Still, there is some confusion as to what kind of framework the US would consider appropriate to present to Ukrainians for further discussion.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield told reporters earlier this week that the Italian framework is “one of those initiatives that we’d certainly like to see ending this horrific war and horrific attacks on the Ukrainian people.” would”. But two US officials told CNN that the US does not actually support the Italian proposal.
In any case, US and Western officials tell CNN there is growing concern that unless the Russians and Ukrainians get back to the table and reach an agreement, the war will drag on – possibly for years.
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Subtle language change
Moscow has also shown little interest in serious talks, officials say. For now, Ukraine remains focused on securing a decisive military victory in the east and south to put itself in a superior negotiating position, these sources said.
“We can propose any plans we want, but it’s unlikely Kyiv will do anything that cedes territory at the moment,” an official said.
Fears that the conflict could drag on indefinitely – with costs mounting – have been reflected in the subtle shift in language and messages from US officials in recent weeks.
But as an effective stalemate has taken hold on the battlefield, with Russia making increasing strides in the east and Ukraine saying it is increasingly outnumbered and outgunned, senior Western officials — including US President Joe Biden — reiterate that even with As is the case in the advanced West, Ukraine’s prospects for peace will ultimately rest on diplomacy.
“As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, this war will ultimately ‘finally end only through diplomacy,'” Biden wrote in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday. “Each negotiation reflects the facts on the ground. We acted quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of arms and ammunition to fight on the battlefield and be in the best possible position at the negotiating table.”
The hope, officials said, is that the US could support Ukraine long enough to lead it to a peaceful solution rather than full surrender.
“Wars are unpredictable,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday. “We were able to predict the invasion, but how this war will develop is very difficult to predict. What we do know is that almost all wars eventually end at the negotiating table.”
But there is no sign yet that either Ukraine is giving up or that Russian President Vladimir Putin will reverse what he is doing in Ukraine, a government official told CNN. Nor is there any sign that Putin is willing to negotiate in good faith to end the war.
“We just don’t know” what could change Putin’s mind, the official added.
Careful that the US does not press Ukraine to cede any territory to Russia, officials have said from the start of the war that the US will avoid engaging directly in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. A source said any pressure that the US and the West are putting on Ukraine to negotiate will undermine Kiev’s grip on future talks.
“It’s not up to us to decide or have strong opinions [on] what Ukraine should or should not accept,” Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
But some Ukrainian officials are still wary that the West will try to force a deal on them, a Ukrainian source told CNN. Zelensky and his senior advisers have publicly ruled out making territorial concessions to Russia.
“Those who advise Ukraine to give something to Russia, these ‘great geopolitical figures’ never see ordinary people, ordinary Ukrainians, millions living on the territory they want to trade for an illusory peace,” he said recently one video speech month.
Longer conflict, higher costs
The war has turned into a grueling drudgery that intelligence and military officials believe will last many months, if not years. Though the two sides may trade small territories back and forth on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, several officials with access to the latest intelligence told CNN they don’t expect Russia or Ukraine to break through existing battle lines any time soon .
This has led to some debate within the government about how far to go with sanctions. Some officials are concerned that new tough moves — such as imposing secondary sanctions on countries that don’t comply with US restrictions on Russian energy exports — could further disrupt energy markets. And there is growing recognition that sanctions will not be a “knockout” for Russia, but rather a “stranglehold” that could take years to entail significant consequences, a senior official said.
As the US seeks to maintain military and financial support for Ukraine and isolate Russia until a peace deal is reached, a key strategy will be to keep the NATO alliance united. But sources say there are already cracks in NATO — Turkey is refusing to push Sweden and Finland into the bloc, and diplomats have had to work out an exemption for Hungary as part of the recent European oil embargo on Russia.
There is also the challenge of maintaining the country’s support for funding the war in Ukraine. There is growing opposition among Donald Trump-aligned Republicans with every vote of support passed by Congress, a Democratic lawmaker has noted. He added that there are concerns about how willing Congress will be to fund a protracted conflict going forward.
“We have some runway by the end of the year,” lawmakers said, referring to the $40 billion Ukraine aid package Biden signed into law last month.
Another top priority will be to continue acquiring enough advanced weaponry to support an artillery-heavy, high-attrition war without depleting US stockpiles. One option being considered is to restart production lines for Soviet-era systems that Ukrainians are already familiar with. But the US also wants to convert Ukraine to NATO-compliant weapon systems, which are easier to manufacture and obtain than the older Soviet systems. But even that comes with its own long-term challenge: Ukraine’s military will need more training to operate Western systems.
Still, US officials have pointed to the more advanced weapons already on the battlefield, like the howitzers, which have significantly helped Ukraine halt Russia’s advance.
“I don’t think we see Ukraine’s defenses collapsing,” said Colin Kahl, Pentagon Secretary of State for Policy. “They’re holding out, but it’s a tough fight.”
Stoltenberg summed it up on Thursday. “We just have to be prepared for the long term,” he said, “because what we’re seeing is that this war has now turned into a war of attrition.”