New details have been revealed Wednesday related to the Ukraine war, at a moment the West is beginning to admit Ukraine's counteroffensive is failing, despite billions of foreign military hardware (and counting) shipped to Kiev thus far.
"Secret diplomatic talks are ongoing between former senior U.S. national security officials and high-ranking members of the Kremlin, a U.S. official directly involved in the talks has confirmed to The Moscow Times," the Amsterdam-based publication reports.
While NBC earlier this month first reported on the back-channel discussions described as "discrete" exchanges with top Kremlin officials, Moscow Times interviewed an unnamed US official involved, shedding light on what's dubbed "track 1.5 diplomacy".
The ongoing meetings have involved Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov representing Moscow, detailed as follows:
Known as track 1.5 diplomacy, these covert discussions enable both sides to understand each other's red lines and mitigate potential conflicts, serving as a crucial link between official government negotiations (track 1 diplomacy) and unofficial expert dialogues (track 2).
"There is an eminent need for track 1.5 diplomacy when the world gets closed off as it has now," the US official who is directly involved in the talks said, further confirming twice-a-month meetings, but which are sometimes done remotely online.
"I have been visiting Moscow at least every three months," the diplomat told Moscow Times. After in the opening months of the war direct attempts at Russia-Ukraine negotiations collapsed, reportedly thwarted by the US and UK at a moment there was a guiding belief that Ukraine could push back the invasion, US-Russia communications deteriorated to the point of becoming almost non-existent.
However, there was a focus on exchanges of prisoners, as the case of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout demonstrated.
“If Russia thought it might lose Crimea,” the US official said, “it would almost certainly resort to tactical nuclear weapons.”— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) July 26, 2023
Thanks Biden, Congressional Democrats, Nuland & sycophants in the media 👍 https://t.co/Vz05aXNzFQ
Below is a transcript of the US official's statements, revealing some of what the US delegation has learned (or at least what the US government wants to signal to the public) throughout the back-channel dialogue [emphasis ZH]...
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“We were given some access to the Kremlin’s thinking, though not as much as we would have liked.”
From his vantage point, sitting across from senior Kremlin officials and advisers, it was apparent that the greatest issue was that the Russians were unable to articulate what exactly they wanted and needed.
“They don't know how to define victory or defeat. In fact, some of the elites to whom we spoke had never wanted the war in the first place, even saying it had been a complete mistake,” said the official.
“But now they’re at war — suffering a humiliating defeat is not an option for these guys.”
“It was here that we made clear that the U.S. was prepared to work constructively with Russian national security concerns,” the official added, breaking from the official U.S. line of squeezing Russia financially and isolating it internationally so as to prevent it from continuing its war against Ukraine.
“An attempt to isolate and cripple Russia to the point of humiliation or collapse would make negotiating almost impossible — we are already seeing this in the reticence from Moscow officials,” he said.
“In fact, we emphasized that the U.S. needs, and will continue to need, a strong enough Russia to create stability along its periphery. The U.S. wants a Russia with strategic autonomy in order for the U.S. to advance diplomatic opportunities in Central Asia. We in the U.S. have to recognize that total victory in Europe could harm our interests in other areas of the world.
“Russian power,” the official concluded, “is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Still, the top levels of White House leadership, including President Biden himself, have only presented a stance of wanting to bolster and arm Kiev "for as long as it takes" — but it remains likely that the more that Ukrainian forces are against the ropes, the scenario could emerge of a greater 'openness' to serious negotiated settlement among Western officials.