Is Putin ready for negotiations?
Exploring what lies behind the New York Times article on “secret” peace talks
The New York Times reported that Putin has purportedly sent peace talk proposals to Washington, aiming to freeze the front along the contact line.
Assuming the credibility of the NYT sources (though, in my opinion, we should question it), two important questions emerge: why now, and is the Kremlin bluffing?
As I've highlighted previously, this conflict began first of all because Russia was rapidly losing its status as a global power. In a bipolar world, Russia functions as a subcontractor for specific policing tasks for one of the two hegemons, in this case, China.
Putin genuinely believed, and still does, that capturing Ukraine (partially seizing and creating a tension buffer zone) would establish Russia as the third global power. Understanding the Kremlin's logic requires starting from these considerations, which underpin everything, including Putin's current discourse on sovereignty.
In his perspective, Putin isn't deceiving (within his logic, of course) when he applies Hitler's "either-or" dichotomy to Russia's future. Either Russia triumphs, or it ceases to exist. For him, "ceasing to exist" equates to "the absence of sovereignty," and the loss of sovereignty means losing the status as one of the global poles.
This preamble is crucial to gauging whether Putin might endorse the initiation of negotiations. In my view, theoretically, such a proposal is plausible. The key is to recognize that while we often discuss Putin preparing for a prolonged war, he is, in reality, not fully prepared for it, despite his outward confidence.
There's another aspect to consider: the more the prolonged war persists, the greater Russia weakens—economically, technologically, and demographically, primarily. Simultaneously, Russia is increasingly relying on China for technology in key industries crucial for the future economy. While not entirely subservient to China, a prolonged war could make Russia technologically dependent on China for years, especially in high-tech sectors like telecommunications, electronics, the military, energy, and mining.
In theory, it might be advantageous for Putin to initiate a military pause around mid-next year. However, Putin believes he can reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions by then. Yet, additional conditions, such as recognizing new territories (unlikely) and, crucially for Putin, partially lifting sanctions on both the economy and himself, would likely be demanded. This seems to be his maximum program. If not achieved, he persists with the war.
Even if Moscow's negotiation attempts fail, the belief is that engaging in secret talks gives Putin a degree of agency. It positions him as a player who can independently resolve conflicts with the United States without China's influence.
The NYT article could set off two less apparent processes. First, on the domestic front in America, various lines of attack on Biden may intensify during the pre-election period, ranging from alleged secret agreements to accusations of losing a chance for peace. This narrative could gain momentum on its own.
The second narrative pertains to Ukraine. Putin has consistently claimed that Ukraine is unwilling to negotiate. The Russians are likely to use this narrative domestically: portraying Russia as the peacemaker while Ukraine allegedly refuses peace. Many recognize this as a lie, but mass communication technologies often shape perceptions differently.
About the author. Vadym Denysenko, political scientist.
The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog authors.