Opinion | Putin seems to want to talk. The U.S. should take him up on it.


The need for more diplomacy between Russia and the United States is glaringly obvious. But he should focus on preventing a catastrophic conflict between the two countries, not on a futile attempt to stop the war in Ukraine.

The Ukraine conflict, for all its horror, is not ripe for a diplomatic solution. Ukraine is advancing on the battlefield, and Russia, with all its nuclear weapons, is in turmoil. A loyal Ukraine wants to return all its territory, but Russia refuses to withdraw. So, for now, there is no middle ground.

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When you have an unsolvable problem, escalate it. It’s a well-known management formula, and it has some validity here. The United States should not (and could not) dictate a deal to Kyiv; instead, it should maintain the flow of weapons, reliably and patiently. But it should find new channels to make it known that America does not want to destroy Russia and wants to avoid direct military conflict.

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These days, even a shaky Russia is willing to negotiate, even though it sends the opposite and misleading message. The latest example was President Vladimir Putin’s speech on Thursday. He repeated his usual complaints about the West, but his next issue was that Russia wants a version of the dialogue.

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“Sooner or later, both the new centers of a multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about a common future,” Putin said at the annual foreign policy forum in Moscow. The Biden White House should forget the strange details of his view of reality: Take him seriously; reply to his message.

One example of Russia’s recent communications failure — and a good response by the United States — has been a barrage of allegations about an alleged Ukrainian plan to build a radiological “dirty bomb.” To most Western analysts, this appeared to be a false pretext by the Kremlin, perhaps to justify Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons. This assessment also seems probable to me. But it’s also possible that Putin really believes it and thinks he has proof.

The Kremlin pushed every message button there was. The Russian defense minister called his American counterpart twice along with the defense ministers of Britain, France and Turkey. The Russian Chief of Staff also conveyed the same message to his Pentagon counterpart. Russia raised this issue to the United Nations Security Council. Putin himself repeated this crime.

What did the Biden administration do? It is worth noting that, despite denying the allegations, it quickly began last week to encourage an investigation by Rafael Grossi, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. To facilitate Grossi’s trip to Ukraine, senior White House and State Department officials called their Ukrainian counterparts. In 24 hours, the Biden administration found an international forum to defuse this crisis (at least for a short time) and make a loud complaint against Russia.

This model of crisis communication needs to be replicated wherever there is a possible – let’s just say – World War III. I think Putin is a liar and a manipulator, and I hope Ukrainians beat Russia on the battlefield. But the United States also has an enduring national interest in avoiding a direct war with Russia, as Biden has repeatedly said.

Some lines of engagement have emerged during eight months of intense fighting. In order to avoid direct conflict with the US, the Pentagon is moving its planes out of Russian airspace and its ships out of Russian waters. Biden told Ukraine that our support is strong but not unlimited. Kiev wanted a no-fly zone and Army Tactical Missile Systems that could potentially target Russian cities. Biden said no to both.

It seems that Kyiv is willing to take increased risks, especially in covert intelligence operations, which the United States does not support. According to an October 5 account in the New York Times, US intelligence concluded that Ukrainian activists were responsible for the August car bombing that killed Daria Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist, and Kyiv later warned that it was Violence is against this. attacks

There is more that Washington must communicate with Moscow through delicate channels – about what to do and what not to do. Before this conflict, Putin asked NATO for security guarantees. Diplomats should restart this discussion. Biden should repeat proposals to limit missile deployments, share information about military exercises and avoid escalation. Let’s remember that such security guarantees were the formula for solving the Cuban Missile Crisis. The secret agreement was this: If you withdraw your nuclear weapons from Cuba, we will withdraw our nuclear weapons from Turkey.

Confrontation is certainly part of the Russia-US balance. Russia knows that if it attacks the United States directly (or uses nuclear weapons), it will pay a heavy price. The same applies to Wednesday’s outlandish threats by Russian Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov that commercial satellites that help Ukraine could be “a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike.”

The other side of this restraining message is that the United States does not want to destroy Russia. Nuclear powers cannot condemn each other. Putin may be losing the war he so foolishly started, but that is not the fault of this country. We cannot save him from the consequences of his folly.

More diplomacy makes sense – if it’s properly focused. The United States should not try to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine now. This is the right of Kyiv. Even if America wanted to impose a solution, it could not. But it is time for urgent talks on how to prevent this terrible war from turning into something much worse.


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