US and NATO officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has not backed off his original demands in peace talks with Ukraine and there is a heavy dose of skepticism in western capitals about how credible Moscow’s engagement truly is — even as the status of those negotiations remains difficult to decipher, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has recently indicated he is willing to consider some concessions to Russia to help bring an end to the violence, including a neutrality policy albeit one underpinned by robust security guarantees, raising more questions about the current state of talks and specific elements of any peace deal that may be under consideration.
“I’m ready for negotiations with [Putin]. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning, but warned that if any negotiation attempts fail, it could mean the fight between the two countries would lead to "a third World War."
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have met four times since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov weighed in on the possibility of Ukraine agreeing to neutral status during a media event in Moscow on Saturday, saying “after our operation in Ukraine ends, and I hope its ends with a signing of a comprehensive agreement on the issues I mentioned — security issues, Ukraine's neutral status with the guarantees of its security as the President [Putin], a couple of months ago as I recall, commented at a news conference on our initiative of non-expansion of NATO, he said we understood every country needs guarantees of its security,” said Lavrov.
But details on negotiations remain scant with many NATO countries, and the US, remaining on the outside looking in when it comes to the secretive peace talks, with one European defense official calling negotiations “a bit of a dark avenue right now.”
The Biden administration still sees no indication that Putin is willing or ready to deescalate the conflict — making it difficult for US officials to be optimistic about the current state of negotiations, one source familiar with the situation said.
But at the same time, this source also said that the US is not pressuring Ukraine to accept or reject specific concessions and is not involved in the negotiation process.
CNN has reached out to the US National Security Council for comment but hasn’t received a response.
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Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report