The White House is now privately urging the Ukrainian government to show openness toward negotiations with Russia, The Washington Post reported Saturday. It follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledging to never enter negotiations with Moscow unless Vladimir Putin is removed from power.
The US administration appears to be trying to nuance the push not as a compromise, but under the optics of ensuring Ukraine "maintains a moral high ground in the eyes of its international backers" as "a calculated attempt to ensure the government in Kyiv maintains the support of other nations facing constituencies wary of fueling a war for many years to come".
This marks the first reported major admission on the part of the Biden administration that dealing with rising food and fuel costs - also at a moment just ahead of midterm elections in which voters are dreading inflation - is a public priority in the West that is quickly supplanting the question of whether Ukraine will "win".
The WaPo report indicates the White House is fully cognizant of the growing war "fatique" - also amid increased vocal GOP objections to the 'blank check' approach to Ukraine foreign aid:
While U.S. officials share their Ukrainian counterparts’ assessment that Putin, for now, isn’t serious about negotiations, they acknowledge that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on talks with him has generated concern in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war’s disruptive effects on the availability and cost of food and fuel are felt most sharply.
"Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners," said one U.S. official who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations between Washington and Kyiv.
US officials cited in the report say the onset of a harsh winter, and the fact that Ukraine is already experiencing rolling emergency blackouts due to Russia's attacks on the energy grid, is likely to make Zelensky amenable to ceasefire talks.
The US officials believe that Kiev "is attempting to lock in as many military gains as it can before winter sets in, when there might be a window for diplomacy."
While over a month ago international headlines were full of positive statements painting an optimistic picture of a rapid and successful Ukrainian counter-advance against the Russians in the east and south, recent weeks have seen this glowing assessment fade as another stalemate on the front lines has set in. Moscow had responded to the major counteroffensive with Putin's partial mobilization order, which has seen tens of thousands of fresh recruits pour into the theater.
Regardless of these fresh reports of a quiet effort to get Zelensky to the negotiating table, which is also being reported in Reuters, resistance to the idea remains fierce among hawks in both Washington and Kiev. Also, the official White House position has long remained that the timing of peace talks is entirely up to the Ukrainians. The Post report continues:
In recent weeks Ukrainian criticism of proposed concessions has grown more pointed, as officials decry "useful idiots" in the West whom they’ve accused of serving Kremlin interests.
"If Russia wins, we will get a period of chaos: flowering of tyranny, wars, genocides, nuclear races," presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Friday. "Any ‘concessions’ to Putin today — a deal with the Devil. You won’t like its price."
Even suggesting the possibility of negotiated settlement in public discourse is met with cries of that's "dangerous" from diehard Ukraine supporters...
Ukrainian fatigue? This statement made by Washington is dangerous. Empowers many African, Central and South American countries that side with Moscow— Alexandre Krauss (@AlexandreKrausz) November 6, 2022
We cannot allow the perpetuation of the Russian problem in Europe. We’ve been allowing it for far too long. #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/cbb35FMgmi
But for American voters more broadly, there also remains the glaring contradiction of rising cost of living at home, combined with the spectacle of monthly billion dollar foreign handouts to the Ukrainian government, whether it be in the form of arms or humanitarian or budgetary aid.
There have also been recent revelations of US administration frustration with Zelensky, with accusations that he remains 'ungrateful' at the tens of billions Washington has already provided for the war effort, given he always asks for more. "Show a little more gratitude..." has been the Biden administration's private messaging for months.