Ukraine’s position with allies is wearing thin as fears grow over economic effect of protracted war, officials tell newspaper
US officials have reportedly warned the Ukrainian government in private that it needs to signal an openness to negotiating with Russia.
Officials in Washington have warned that “Ukraine fatigue” among allies could worsen if Kyiv continues to be closed to negotiations, the Washington Post reported. US officials told the paper that Ukraine’s position on negotiations with Russia is wearing thin among allies who are worried about the economic effects of a protracted war.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said Ukraine is only prepared to enter negotiations with Russia if its troops leave all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea and the eastern areas of the Donbas, de facto controlled by Russia since 2014, and if those Russians who have committed crimes in Ukraine face trial.
Zelenskiy also made clear that he would not hold negotiations with the current Russian leadership. Last month, he signed a decree specifying that Ukraine would only negotiate with a Russian president who has succeeded Vladimir Putin.
The US has so far given Ukraine $18.9bn (£16.6bn) worth of aid and is ready to give more, saying it will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. However, allies in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, US officials told the Post, are concerned by the strain that the war is putting on energy and food prices as well as supply chains.
“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” one US official said.
US officials have requested that Kyiv signal its openness to negotiate not to push Ukraine towards the negotiating table immediately, but to maintain the support of concerned allies, according to the Post.
For Ukrainian officials, the US’s request would mean reneging on several months of rhetoric about the need for a decisive military defeat against Russia in order to secure Ukraine’s security in the long term – a message that strongly resonates with the Ukrainian population who fear Russia will only try again to capture the country in the future.
The atrocities, deaths and destruction caused by Russia’s invasion have made negotiations unpalatable to many Ukrainians, particularly as the mood in Ukraine is buoyant after a string of successes on the battlefield in the north-east Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions.
Despite the strong rhetoric, losing allied support could have repercussions for Ukraine, particularly in terms of sanctions. The veteran diplomat Alexander Vershbow told the Post that “if the conditions become more propitious for negotiations, I don’t think the [US] administration is going to be passive”.
Russian officials have said Kyiv is preparing to attempt a second offensive to retake more of the occupied Kherson region. Recapturing it would have immense symbolic and logistical value for Ukraine as Russia wants the area to secure a water supply to Crimea as well as a land bridge to Russia. In a statement on Telegram, the Russian-controlled Kherson administration said electricity and water supplies were down after a “terrorist attack” damaged three power lines in the occupied part of the region.
The Russian-installed Kherson official Kirill Stemousov said on Thursday that Russian forces would probably withdraw to the eastern bank of the city, after the occupying authorities took down the Russian flag from the regional administration building and reportedly moved into an office on the east bank.
The events, which followed a mass evacuation of occupied Kherson, prompted rumours that the Russians might be withdrawing.
However, Russian forces have been strengthening their positions and the spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, Natalia Humeniuk, described it as a ruse to draw Ukraine into battle. Recent battlefield BBC reports from Ukraine’s side of the Kherson frontline, indicate that Kyiv’s forces may still lack the necessary equipment.
In the first month of the war, Ukraine and Russia held talks in which Ukraine promised it would remain neutral in exchange for the return of its territories. But Russia called for Ukraine to recognise its annexed territories and the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine – terms that Ukraine and its western allies did not take seriously.
Reiterating his stance on Friday, Zelenskiy described Russia’s willingness to let so many Russian men die in the war as “insane stubbornness”, which he said indicated that their alleged readiness to negotiate was “false”.
“When someone thinks about negotiations, he does not look for ways to deceive everyone around him in order to send tens or hundreds of thousands more people to the meat grinder – mobilised or in the form of some mercenaries,” Zelenskiy said.
The US has said that for now it agrees with Ukraine’s position. A US official speaking to Reuters about the report said: “The Kremlin continues to escalate this war. The Kremlin has demonstrated its unwillingness to seriously engage in negotiations since even before it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
Putin has taken steps to reroute the Russian economy for the Ukraine war effort, in another sign, aside from mobilisation, that Russia is preparing for the long-haul.
In October, Putin created an influential government body, the coordination council, to coordinate supplies to the military. It has been tasked with transforming Russia’s regional economies so they can cope with the needs of the Russian army in Ukraine.
Russia’s new drive to arm and replenish its military is one part of a two-pronged strategy designed to regain the advantage on the battlefield and declare its much-wanted victory over Kyiv.
The second part of the strategy involves disabling Ukraine in the rear. Over the last month, Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure. Dozens of power plants, substations and other parts of Ukraine’s energy system have been severely damaged by repeated Russian attacks.
Ukraine’s authorities have issued scheduled blackouts across the country as a result in order to stabilise the grid.
Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukraine’s state energy company, Ukrenergo, told the Guardian Russia was trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy sector. He said the situation was critical because it was not possible to repair the grid as fast as it was being destroyed. If the Russian attacks continued, the blackouts would become “longer and longer”, he said.
The head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said on Tuesday that once again it was an outpost in Russia’s attempt to target the capital. Kuleba said power stations on the edge of the capital had been repeatedly targeted to cut the electricity supply to the capital.
Kyiv’s mayor and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said he did not rule out a scenario in which the capital faced a complete blackout. Speaking to Ukraine’s United News, a centralised news programme broadcast across all channels, Klitschko told people to prepare by buying power banks and warm clothes. In case of an all-out blackout, he said Kyiv’s residents should try to stay with relatives outside of the capital.
However, Klitschko urged people in Kyiv not to be “pessimistic”, saying he was only advising people to prepare for different scenarios. “We will do everything that depends on us so that such a scenario does not happen.”
A complete blackout would mean there was no sewage, so authorities would be forced to ask the city’s 3 million residents to leave, Roman Tkachuk, the director of security for the Kyiv municipal government told the New York Times. The paper reported that officials in the capital had been told they would probably have at least 12 hours’ notice if the grid were on the verge of failure. If that happened, Tkachuk said, they would “start informing people and requesting them to leave,” adding that the situation was under control for now.
In line with a series of dismissals of Russian military commanders since the war started, Maj Gen Alexander Linkov reportedly replaced Col Gen Alexander Lapin on Thursday, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence. Lapin was criticised for poor performance on the battlefield in Ukraine both by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said the ministry. Britain said the dismissals of Russia’s top brass were a way to insulate Russia’s leadership from any blame for the war’s failings.