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US offered Russia “fair” elections in occupied Ukraine in secret talks – Moscow Times

New details have emerged of the US-Russia backchannel talks about Ukraine, which are intended to breach the “severe lack of sustained US-Russia dialogue on European security”
Mary Beth Long secret US Russia talks Ukraine
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long is a reported participant in the cover US-Russia talks about Ukraine. Screenshot from show with Long
US offered Russia “fair” elections in occupied Ukraine in secret talks – Moscow Times

US, Russian Officials Hold Secret Talks Aimed at Ending Ukraine War

Former senior US national security officials have engaged in confidential discussions with high-ranking Kremlin members in recent months in an effort to find a diplomatic solution to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, a direct participant in the talks has confirmed to The Moscow Times.

These confidential talks represent “Track 1.5 diplomacy,” allowing both sides to explore each other’s red lines and defuse possible conflicts. Track 1.5 serves as an important bridge between formal negotiations between governments (track 1) and informal expert discussions (track 2).

The former US official, speaking anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the talks, said meetings between American and Russian representatives have taken place at least twice per month, either online or in person in Moscow. While the Kremlin has offered some insight into its thinking, it has not fully articulated its goals and objectives, the former official said.

“They don’t know how to define victory or defeat. In fact, some of the elites to whom we spoke had never wanted the war in the first place, even saying it had been a complete mistake,” the source stated. However, accepting defeat is not an option for Russia’s leadership.

The former US official stressed that the American side has indicated its willingness to address Russia’s national security concerns constructively. “An attempt to isolate and cripple Russia to the point of humiliation or collapse would make negotiating almost impossible – we are already seeing this in the reticence from Moscow officials,” the person said.

At the same time, the US recognizes the need for a strong Russia to create stability in the region and provide diplomatic opportunities, according to the source. “We in the US have to recognize that total victory in Europe could harm our interests in other areas of the world,” the former official noted, adding, “Russian power is not necessarily a bad thing.”

The ex-official admitted that while decoupling Russia from China is unrealistic, efforts should be made to limit their partnership. The goal is to balance preventing consolidation of Russian power while enabling US diplomacy in Asia, where Russia plays a key role. “This does not mean we are abandoning Ukraine or Europe,” the source clarified.

According to the participant, the Biden administration came to realize too late that Russia wanted to be taken seriously, using the 2021 military buildup on Ukraine’s border to gain attention. “There has been a severe lack of sustained US-Russia dialogue on European security,” the former official lamented.

The source conceded that ultimately Russia and Ukraine would need to negotiate directly. Initial US-Russia talks suggested establishing channels between various parties, including Ukraine-Russia, Russia-EU, and Russia-Global South.

With Crimea, the former official warned that “if Russia thought it might lose Crimea, it would almost certainly resort to [using] tactical nuclear weapons.” The US had offered to facilitate referendums in Russian-occupied regions on joining Russia or Ukraine, but Russia declined and claimed annexation.

Overall, progress has been stymied largely due to Putin, the source argued. “Putin is the major block to all progress,” the former official stated. “The US administration has made at least one attempt to speak with the Kremlin but Putin himself refused.” As such, outreach to the Russian elite on potentially ousting Putin may be necessary, the source concluded.

What is known about secret US-Russia talks

NBC first reported about secret American-Russian talks to end Russia’s war behind Ukraine’s back on 6 July.

Citing multiple sources briefed on the talks, it wrote that a group of former senior US national security officials has engaged in confidential discussions with prominent Russians believed to have connections to the Kremlin, with the aim of laying groundwork for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.

According to NBC, the discussions have included a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former US officials Richard Haass, Charles Kupchan, and Thomas Graham for several hours in New York this past April. The agenda covered some of the most contentious issues in the conflict, such as the fate of territory in Ukraine currently held by Russia.

After the meeting, Haass, Kupchan, and Graham briefed the White House National Security Council on their discussion with Lavrov. The talks represent “Track 1.5 diplomacy,” involving private citizens and current officials engaging in unofficial talks.

Several other former US defense officials, including Mary Beth Long, who has extensive NATO experience, have also taken part in the discussions, sources said. At least one former American official has traveled to Russia amid these talks focused on the Ukraine war endgame.

The Biden administration has been aware of the engagement between former US officials and Russians but did not direct it. The identities of the Russian participants have been kept confidential due to concerns over their safety, NBC reported in early July.

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