A Follow Up on Negotiation

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I was reading more commentary on this Progressive Caucus letter calling for negotiations to end the Russo-Ukraine war. Some of the criticisms I’ve seen amount to, Putin is terrible. It’s a criminal regime. You can’t negotiate with a regime like that. I completely disagree with that.

Yes, criminal, terrible, all those things. But you have to be willing to negotiate with even the worst regimes. All the more so since this war very much does hold the risk of cataclysmic escalation. If the Russian government were to reach out today to Ukraine or the U.S. and say, we’re ready to withdraw to our own borders, what do we get in return? — that’s the basis of conversation. More realistically, perhaps they would say they want to talk on the basis of a return to the February 24th 2022 front lines. I am not sure that’s an acceptable resolution any more. But it’s at least the basis of discussions.

To be clear, I don’t mean a cessation of hostilities followed by negotiations. Wars usually continue during at least preliminary negotiations. Russia’s overwhelming interest for months has been a ceasefire which leaves them in control of large portions of Ukraine and gives them a chance to rebuild their military capacity to take more land in a few months or years. But those suggestions are close enough to something realistic to start a discussion. Not an end to it, but to start it.

My point here is that the problem with negotiations now is not that Putin or Russia is too evil or has too much blood on its hands to talk. Some people believe that. I don’t. The problem is that Russia’s negotiating position is Ukraine’s capitulation. Ukraine is not ready to agree to that. And the United States has decided (I think correctly) that it is in our interests to back them in that refusal. As long as that is the case there’s not much to talk about.

It should go without saying that we should remain in regular consultations with Russia. Phone lines open. That reduces the chances of miscommunications and miscalculations. And we are ready to listen to proposals that are at least in the ballpark of what we believe is an acceptable outcome to the conflict.

This is not naive. It is merely an open willingness to end the conflict if and when the other side is ready.

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