With U.S. and European aid to Ukraine now in serious jeopardy, the Biden administration and European officials are quietly shifting their focus from supporting Ukraine’s goal of total victory over Russia to improving its position in an eventual negotiation to end the war, according to a Biden administration official and a European diplomat based in Washington. Such a negotiation would likely mean giving up parts of Ukraine to Russia.
The White House and Pentagon publicly insist there is no official change in administration policy — that they still support Ukraine’s aim of forcing Russia’s military completely out of the country. But along with the Ukrainians themselves, U.S. and European officials are now discussing the redeployment of Kyiv’s forces away from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s mostly failed counteroffensive into a stronger defensive position against Russian forces in the east, according to the administration official and the European diplomat, and confirmed by a senior administration official. This effort has also involved bolstering air defense systems and building fortifications, razor wire obstructions and anti-tank obstacles and ditches along Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, these officials say. In addition, the Biden administration is focused on rapidly resurrecting Ukraine’s own defense industry to supply the desperately needed weaponry the U.S. Congress is balking at replacing.
One of the administration officials told POLITICO Magazine this week that much of this strategic shift to defense is aimed at shoring up Ukraine’s position in any future negotiation. “That’s been our theory of the case throughout — the only way this war ends ultimately is through negotiation,” said the official, a White House spokesperson who was given anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. “We want Ukraine to have the strongest hand possible when that comes.” The spokesperson emphasized, however, that no talks are planned yet, and that Ukrainian forces are still on the offensive in places and continue to kill and wound thousands of Russian troops. “We want them to be in a stronger position to hold their territory. It’s not that we’re discouraging them from launching any new offensive,” the spokesperson added.
For Biden, navigating the nearly two-year-old war in the middle of a tough election campaign — with former President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates openly mocking his efforts — will prove tricky at best. As it helps Ukraine shift to a more defensive posture, the Biden administration can’t appear to be handing the advantage to Putin after insisting since the war began in February 2022 that it stands fully behind Zelenskyy’s pledge of victory over Moscow. [Continue reading…]