President Joe Biden has just issued his biggest overture to Moscow since the war's start, now more than nine months in, saying he's "prepared to speak with" Vladimir Putin about the conflict if Russia is ready to wind it down. "I am prepared to speak with Mr Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he is looking for a way to end the war," Biden said late in the day Thursday, stressing he would need to consult with NATO allies.
"He hasn’t done that yet. If that’s the case, in consultation with my French and Nato friends, I’ll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he has in mind," Biden continued. Biden stressed at the joint press conference with Macron, "There's one way for this war to end, the rational way: Putin could pull out of Ukraine, No. 1. It appears he's not going to do that."
But as FT underscores, "the comments, made at a press conference in Washington, DC, during a bilateral summit with French president Emmanuel Macron, mark the furthest Biden has gone in expressing openness to discuss the war with Putin."
The surprising remarks, which came after months of the US administration repeatedly emphasized its staunch position that only Ukraine and Ukraine alone can decide the timing of any potential ceasefire talks, included the qualifier that Biden has "no immediate plans" to contact the Russian leader.
The White House is this week rolling the red carpet out for the French leader, with Biden hosting his administration's first state dinner. Macron arrived for his three-day visit on Wednesday at a time of growing open criticism of the US position from European officials, with the French leader at the forefront is growing on Washington's handling of the war, specifically its entrenched position which has thus far encouraged the Zelensky government to resist sitting down at the table with the Russians for talks.
Alongside Washington's refusal to push the Zelensky government to the negotiating table remains the unprecedented billions worth of weaponry and defense continuing to aid pour in, risking unpredictable escalation between NATO and Russia. Meanwhile European populations will continue being the first to pay the price amid frigid winter temperatures and a simultaneous severe energy supply crisis even as some leaders still spout abstract ideals of "sacrifice".
Biden has continued rolling out his controversial green subsidies and taxes as part of his controversial Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), widely perceived as unfairly punishing European industries at this most sensitive juncture. But Biden on Wednesday said he "makes no apology" - but immediately followed with: "There are tweaks that we can make that can fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate or be on their own, but that still needs to be worked out." He said while sounding on the defensive at a press conference, "We never intended to exclude folks who were willing to co-operate with us."
Of the policy's proposed $400bn of incentives toward pushing the transition to green energy, FT reviews of France's position on the sweeping IRA plan:
France has been among its loudest critics, arguing that it unfairly skews competition by reserving tax credits and subsidies for US companies, which risks leading to job losses in the EU. Macron on Wednesday called the legislation "super aggressive" against European companies and warned it risked "fragmenting the west" when unity was needed to navigate the fallout from the war.
Indeed just under a week ago, Politico bluntly observed, "Top European officials are furious with Joe Biden’s administration and now accuse the Americans of making a fortune from the war, while EU countries suffer."
“The idea that Putin is ever going to defeat Ukraine is beyond comprehension."— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) December 2, 2022
Biden said he’d be interested in talking to Putin only if the Russian president is really looking for a way to end the war https://t.co/cpKxHKIwSt pic.twitter.com/jlUDy26XUU
As for some of Macron's latest words while speaking alongside Biden during Thursday's events, he vowed French support for Kyiv won't wane:
"What is at stake in Ukraine is not very far from here in a small country somewhere in Europe, but it's about our values. And it's about our principles. And it's about what we agreed together in the U.N. charter - protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity."
And on "major progress" made regarding the IRA...
US President Biden and French President Macron made major progress in talks on how to alleviate the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on Europe in which the US could use executive orders to give European allies the same level of exemptions on local content as countries with a free-trade deal, according to a source at the French Finance Ministry.
On the Kremlin side, importantly Biden's 'offer' of being prepared to speak with President Putin about the war didn't go unacknowledged. The Russian presidency's office said Friday that Putin is "open" to such talks.
"The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests," Peskov told reporters. "The United States still doesn’t recognize the new territories as part of the Russian Federation." Peskov added, "This of course significantly complicates the search for some kind of mutual grounds for possible discussions."
Macron continues the rhetorical escalation of complaints about the Inflation Reduction Act on behalf of EU firms. https://t.co/VjSpUTKmje— Todd N. Tucker (@toddntucker) December 2, 2022
And according to more of the Kremlin's reaction to Biden's 'openness'...
Asked if the way Biden was framing potential contacts meant that negotiations were impossible from a Russian perspective, Peskov said: "In essence, that's what Biden said. He said that negotiations are possible only after Putin leaves Ukraine."
The Kremlin, Peskov said, could not accept that - and the Russian military operation would continue in Ukraine.
But it remains that with pressure brewing in Europe to get Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table, this moment represents a perhaps initial, albeit slight breakthrough and bright spot of sorts. Europe's energy crisis is only likely to grow more acute in the meantime as wintery temperatures continue to plummet. In Ukraine, an estimated six million people still remain without power after the latest devastating rounds of Russian airstrikes targeting the national electricity grid and infrastructure.