U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan has confirmed that communication channels between the United States and Russia remain open despite the war in Ukraine, the BBC reports.
Sullivan, speaking in New York on November 7, said it was “in the interests” of Washington to maintain contact with the Kremlin.
Sullivan’s comments came after a report in The Wall Street Journal on November 6 that he had held undisclosed talks with top Russian officials in the hope of reducing the risk the Russian invasion of Ukraine spills over or escalates into a nuclear conflict.
Live Briefing: Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL’s Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia’s ongoing invasion, Kyiv’s counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
A previous media report, in The Washington Post, said Washington was privately encouraging Ukraine to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia, as the State Department said Moscow was escalating the war and did not seriously wish to engage in peace talks.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, said the request by U.S. officials was not aimed at pushing Ukraine to the negotiating table, but a calculated attempt to ensure Kyiv maintains the support of other countries.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told RFE/RL it was absurd to suggest that Western countries that are supplying Ukraine with weapons would push Kyiv to negotiate on Moscow’s terms.
“Ukraine receives from its partners, first of all from the United States, quite effective weapons,” he said. “We are pushing the Russian Army out of territory. And against this background, forcing us to the negotiation process, and in fact to recognize the ultimatum of the Russian Federation, is nonsense! And no one will do that.”
He said suggestions the West was pushing Ukraine to negotiate were part of Russia’s “information program,” though he did not directly rebut a report in The Washington Post.
Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on November 7 that he was open to talks with Russia, but only “genuine” negotiations that would restore Ukraine’s borders, grant it compensation for Russian attacks, and punish those responsible for war crimes.
Zelenskiy signed a decree on October 4 formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin “impossible” but leaving the door open to talks with Russia.
Sullivan told a public event in New York that the Biden administration had “an obligation to pursue accountability” and pledged to work with international partners to “hold the perpetrators of grave and grotesque war crimes in Ukraine responsible for what they have done.”
Sullivan did not elaborate on the communication channels that Washington and Moscow maintained, but insisted that U.S. officials were “clear-eyed about who we are dealing with,” the BBC reported.
Sullivan travelled to Kyiv on November 4 and pledged Washington’s “unwavering and unflinching” support for Ukraine.
His unannounced visit coincided with an announcement the same day by the U.S. Defense Department of another shipment of weapons to Ukraine worth $400 million.
“I was just in Kyiv on Friday and I had the opportunity to meet with President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy and my counterpart Andriy Yermak, with the military leadership and also to get a briefing on just what level of death and devastation has been erupted by Putin’s war on that country,” Sullivan was quoted by the BBC as saying on November 7.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the U.S. media reports.
“I’ve seen those reportings. So, you know — and, look, people claim a lot of things about conversations that we — that the United States has or doesn’t have,” Jean-Pierre told a news briefing on November 7. “I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you.”
The secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said on November 8 that the “main condition” for the resumption of negotiations with Russia would be the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Danilov said on Twitter that Ukraine also needed the “guarantee” of modern air defenses, aircraft, tanks, and long-range missiles.
According to the report in The Wall Street Journal, Sullivan held confidential conversations in recent months with Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev that were not disclosed publicly.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on November 7 that while Russia remained “open” to talks, it was unable to negotiate with Kyiv due to its refusal to hold talks with Russia.