Sunday 5 November 2023

Report: U.S. And European Officials Float Peace Terms For Ukraine

 Senior officials from the United States and its allies have begun discussing possible terms for an end to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, according to a report from NBC News.

According to the report, possible outlines for a peace deal were discussed last month during a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, an organization of more than 50 nations who have provided military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022. Officials were reportedly concerned about a perceived “stalemate” and a lack of public support for a drawn out war.

Since Russia launched its invasion, Ukraine has received nearly $350 billion in foreign aid, including $113 billion from the U.S., which has been crucial to its continued war effort. 

But, according to Gallup, support for more aid has been steadily declining for over a year. A plurality of Americans, 41%, believe the U.S. is too involved in the war in Ukraine, including 62% of Republicans and 44% of independents. While only 14% of Democrats say the same, more than 60% of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe that neither side is winning the war.

That opinion was echoed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army, Valery Zaluzhny. 

“Just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” Zaluzhny told the Economist. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”

That assessment came months after Ukraine began its long vaunted counteroffensive in June, which has resulted in limited territorial gains but come nowhere near punching through the Russian line, which has disappointed many of Ukraine’s allies.

Zaluzhny said that he had underestimated Russia’s willingness to take heavy casualties in order to hold their positions – the general claimed that 150,000 Russians have been killed since the invasion began.

The fog of war makes verifying exact casualty numbers difficult, but by August 2023, U.S. officials estimated that 120,000 Russians have been killed. Various European journalists have tracked at least 34,000 public obituaries of Russian servicemen killed in Ukraine, although they estimate that the true death toll is much higher. Russia itself has not disclosed casualty numbers, but since the war began, it has recruited extensively from its prison system and mobilized hundreds of thousands of new conscripts, in some instances with little to no training.

“We are in a hopeless situation, as we are considered expendable, and the command is indifferent to our lives,” one unnamed Russian draftee said in a Telegram post.

Despite these losses, and widespread morale issues culminating in a mutiny by the infamous Wagner Group earlier this year, Russia seems to have held the line, and General Zaluzhny expressed concern that Russia, which has more than three times as many people as Ukraine, would have an advantage in a war of attrition. The general argued that Ukraine needed new advanced military systems to break the deadlock, and while aid from the U.S. and other countries allowed them to fight Russia on an even footing, it wasn’t enough to give them an edge.

“They are not obliged to give us anything, and we are grateful for what we have got,” Zaluzhny  said. “I am simply stating the facts.”

American, Ukrainian and other European officials have also worried that the outbreak of violence in Israel after the brutal October 7 terror attacks last month will divert attention and resources away from Ukraine. The Biden administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed for a joint multi-billion dollar aid package to Israel and Ukraine, but the Republican controlled House passed a standalone bill to support Israel while leaving aid to Ukraine on the negotiating table, possibly as part of a deal for increased border security.

President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer(D-NY) have said that proposal is dead on arrival, but allies of Ukraine are worried that the debate itself shows unqualified support for Ukraine is becoming unsustainable. The U.S. still has about $5 billion of outstanding allocated aid waiting to be sent to Ukraine, as the result of an accounting error by the Pentagon, but once that runs out further funds would have to be approved by the divided Congress.

The details of any hypothetical peace deal are indeterminate, but would almost certainly involve Ukraine ceding occupied territory to Russia, possibly in exchange for NATO membership or other security guarantees from the West. American and European officials have reportedly begun working out an informal timeline to begin negotiations, with some saying that Ukraine has until the end of the year at most before they have to come to the table.

One official told NBC that while the Biden administration has discussed a peace summit framework with Ukraine, the White House “is not aware of any other conversations with Ukraine about negotiations at the moment.”

“Any decisions about negotiations are up to Ukraine,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “We are focused on continuing to stand strongly in support of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russian aggression.”

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