At times, Ukraine has been unwilling to negotiate an end to the ongoing war with Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has gone so far as to issue a decree banning negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At other times, Russia has given up on negotiating. In a press conference at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lamented, if you insist “’on the battlefield’—well, let it be on the battlefield.”
And at times, Ukraine and Russia have been willing to negotiate with each other. The United States, though, has at no time been willing to negotiate. Instead, an administration that promised the world “a new era of relentless diplomacy” has delivered an unhappy pattern of obstructing negotiations.
As early as December 17, 2021, months before their invasion, Russia presented the United States with a proposal on mutual security guarantees that demanded NATO not expand into Ukraine. The proposal demanded that “The United States of America shall take measures to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and deny accession to the Alliance to the former USSR republics.” A month later, on January 26, the United States rejected Russia’s central demand and formally declined to negotiate, insisting instead on “the right of other states to choose or change security arrangements.”
Vladimir Putin remarked “that fundamental Russian concerns were ignored.” In the official Russian response on February 17, 2022, Russia said that the United States and NATO offered “no constructive answer” to Russia’s key demands. Four days later, on February 21, Sergey Lavrov said, “The assessment of this response shows that our Western colleagues are not prepared to take up our major proposals, primarily those on NATO’s eastward non-expansion. This demand was rejected with reference to the bloc’s so-called open-door policy and the freedom of each state to choose its own way of ensuring security.” Highlighting American stubbornness about negotiating, the veteran diplomat added the important detail that, “Neither the United States, nor the North Atlantic Alliance proposed an alternative to this key provision.”
On April 8, 2022, Derek Chollet, counselor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, admited that the United States told Moscow that negotiating NATO expansion into Ukraine was never on the table.
Just last month on September 17, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the stunning concession that, as Putin had always insisted, Russia “went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders,” and that Putin “sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that.” Stoltenberg then repeated, “He wanted us to sign that promise, never to enlarge NATO…We rejected that.”
On February 27, 2022, just days into the war, Russia and Ukraine announced that they would hold talks in Belarus. At the end of the talks, the two delegations returned home for consultations, having identified priority topics. A second round of talks took place in Belarus on March 3.
At a February 25 press conference, State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked what the U.S. position was on the upcoming “talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in Minsk,” the capital of Belarus. Price rejected negotiations, saying, “Now we see Moscow suggesting that diplomacy take place at the barrel of a gun or as Moscow’s rockets, mortars, artillery target the Ukrainian people. This is not real diplomacy. Those are not the conditions for real diplomacy.”
Shortly after, on March 6, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a surprise visit to Moscow to meet with Putin in an attempt at mediation. Bennett had a series of back and forth conversations with Putin and Zelensky before flying to Germany for meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Bennett also had conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron, followed by then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Bennett said that “there was a good chance of reaching a ceasefire.” But Bennett also says the West made a different decision. “So, they blocked it?” his interviewer asked. “They blocked it,” Bennett replied.
From March 2022 into April, Turkey mediated talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul. The two sides reached a tentative agreement.
On June 13, Putin confirmed that “we reached an agreement in Istanbul,” and that it had reached the level of having been initialled by both sides. On September 9, Lavrov further confirmed that the agreement had been initialled: “[W]e did hold talks in March and April 2022,” Lavrov said, “We agreed on certain things; everything was already initialled.”
A face-to-face meeting between Putin and Zelensky was in the process of being set.
But on April 9, 2022, Boris Johnson rushed to Kiev and insisted to Zelensky that Vladimir Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with” and that, even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, “the West was not.”
The negotiations came to a sudden stop. On June 13, 2023, Putin said, “We actually did this but they simply threw it away later and that’s it.” On June 17, Putin told an African delegation that “the Kiev authorities…tossed [their commitments] into the dustbin of history. They abandoned everything.” Putin implicitly blamed the United States, saying that that when Ukraine’s interests “are not in sync” with American interests, “ultimately it is about the United States’s interests. We know that they hold the key to solving issues.” On September 23, 2023, Lavrov, too, said, “I think, someone in London or Washington did not want this war to end.”
On April 20, 2022, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “There are countries within NATO who want the war to continue.”
“Following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting,” Cavusoglu explained, “it was the impression that…there are those within the NATO member states that want the war to continue, let the war continue and Russia get weaker.” On November 18, 2022, Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy chairman of Erdogan’s ruling party, said “We know that our President is talking to the leaders of both countries. In certain matters, progress was made, reaching the final point, then suddenly we see that the war is accelerating…Someone is trying not to end the war. The United States sees the prolongation of the war as its interest…There are those who want this war to continue…Putin-Zelensky was going to sign, but someone didn’t want to.”
No talks between Russia and Ukraine have been held since.