U.S. repeatedly blocked Ukraine peace deals; is it rethinking its strategy yet?
They had a deal: Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed on a basic plan to end the war in its early days, premised on Ukrainian military neutrality and the country not joining NATO. Russia would have withdrawn all its forces. Here, the two sides meet in Brest, near Belarus, in March 2022. Shaking hands are Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podoliak and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin. Second from the left is Davyd Arakhamia, leader of Zelensky's Servant of the People Party in the Ukrainian parliament. | Maxim Guchek / Pool photo via AP

Are the U.S. and its NATO allies beginning to rethink their strategy for the war in Ukraine?

Officially, the U.S. continues to stand lockstep behind President Volodymyr Zelensky, with President Joe Biden pushing for over $60 billion in new weaponry and other aid for Ukraine as part of his recent $105 billion war budget request that included Israel and Taiwan.

Other signs, however, suggest U.S. policy regarding the war may actually be in deep trouble.

The head of Zelensky’s faction in the Ukrainian parliament, Davyd Arakhamia (a.k.a. David Braun), is openly expressing worries that Kiev’s Washington benefactor is losing interest. Stepping up his anti-Semitic rhetoric, Arakhamia says Ukraine’s dependency on the U.S. and a lack of strategy are impediments to resolving his country’s conflict with Russia.

A few days ago, Arakhamia gave an interview on Ukrainian television that grabbed international attention. He leads Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party parliamentary faction, which has eliminated most other parties in the legislature, with the exception of the extreme right-wing ones. He occupies a top spot in the president’s inner circle.

In the interview, Arakhamia accused the Biden administration of turning away from Ukraine because of “the Jews” and “the Jewish lobby” in the U.S. He said American Jews are “widely represented on all levels and in all decision-making centers” and that they are exerting pressure to downgrade Ukraine’s fight against Vladimir Putin so as to prioritize U.S. backing for Netanyahu’s war in Gaza.

Arakhamia is apparently unclear about whether the alleged international Jewish conspiracy is headquartered in Tel Aviv or Washington, D.C.

Setting aside the issue of the anti-Semitism reflected in the remarks by Zelensky’s top parliamentary operative, comments from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in recent days suggest that U.S. confidence in Kiev is indeed waning, though not because of any Israeli or Jewish distractions.

Signaling in both directions

“It is for Ukraine to decide what are acceptable ways to end this war,” Stoltenberg said Monday, a short time after Arakhamia’s interview aired. “Our responsibility is to support Ukraine and…put them in the best possible place when or if negotiations may start.”

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to detect a change of rhetoric. No more discussions about successful counteroffensives or fighting valiantly until every inch of land is retaken from Russian forces.

Signaling left, signaling right: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg suggested this week that it’s up to Ukraine to negotiate an end to its war with Russia, but also declared that all the allies still want Kiev to join the U.S. led alliance. | Photo: AP / Design: PW

“War is by nature unpredictable,” the NATO chief continued, “the more military support we provide to Ukraine, the stronger their position will be on the battlefield and the stronger their position will be on a potential negotiating table.”

To assure Zelensky that NATO isn’t totally hanging him out to dry, however, Stoltenberg promised that all the allies still want Ukraine to become a member. Someday. After some unspecified “reforms.” Gaining membership during the war, though, remains “impossible.”

Essentially, Stoltenberg was flashing both turn signals, clearly hinting at a downgrade of expectations for an outright Ukrainian military victory but still saying just the right thing to provoke Russia and ensure that the fighting will continue.

In Stoltenberg’s words, there is a glimpse into the current thinking among the NATO leadership. It’s a revelation that exposes a major flaw in Arakhamia’s analysis of the war and his conclusion that “Jews” are stealing Biden’s attention away from Ukraine: Unlike Stoltenberg, he fails to give any importance whatsoever to how the war has actually been going on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

NATO and the U.S. have been aware for some time that the war in Ukraine wasn’t really about “beating” Russia on the battlefield anymore if it ever really was. This was evident even before the current Israeli war against Palestine began. Instead of looking for a way out, though, they repeatedly propped up their now apparently ill-fated campaign with just enough weapons infusions to keep Ukraine afloat.

Peace was possible

The bankruptcy of U.S. and allied policy in the war is reflected first of all in the failure of Ukraine’s much-hyped “summer counteroffensive,” which cost thousands of lives and only gained a few miles of muddy fields. Those pitiful “gains” cost U.S. taxpayers many billions of dollars.

The resultant destruction and loss of many more thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives continue, however, to provide the benefit of an unending profit stream flowing into the coffers of U.S. armaments makers, who enthusiastically fund lawmakers who back the war.

What is becoming all too apparent is that this conflict didn’t have to still be going on right now; it didn’t have to stretch into the bloody war of attrition that it has turned into. The killing could have ended long ago.

Though Arakhamia’s anti-Semitism has him looking in the wrong direction for explanations as to why Ukraine is losing, he does offer insights that are useful for understanding why the battles in the east are still raging.

It is clear that the U.S. and its allies were out to sabotage possibilities for peace immediately after the Russian invasion. Were it not for their interference, the current war could have ended in early March 2022—about a week after it started. Thanks to Arakhamia, we now have confirmation of this fact.

He was at the talks in Belarus and said the Russians would halt the invasion and leave Ukraine if there was agreement on Ukrainian military neutrality and its leaders gave up on NATO membership.

Rather than report this to the public, however, the media in Europe and the U.S. focused on sensational statements that were not actually part of those negotiations. They insisted that the Russians made official demands in the talks to “de-Nazify” a country that the Allies said had no Nazis. Further, Russia supposedly demanded direct control of not only the eastern Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine but also other vast stretches of the country.

Madeleine Albright, the now-deceased and famous U.S. diplomat, once said that during negotiations, one must distinguish between what participants really want and what is just political theater. In Belarus in March 2022, the U.S. chose to focus on political theater, diverting attention from the two key Russian demands.

Arakhamia said that internationally mediated negotiations in Istanbul, shortly after the March 2022 talks in Belarus, actually produced an agreement between Ukraine and Russia to bring the fighting to an end—on the basis of those same points.

“[The Russians] were ready to end the war if we accepted neutrality like Finland once did. And we were ready to make a commitment that we would not join NATO. When we returned from Istanbul, [then-British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson came to Kiev and said: ‘Do not sign anything with them at all; just go to war,’” Arakhamia said.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was also in Istanbul, confirmed that a Russia-Ukraine peace deal was nearly reached in the spring of 2022. His remarks were reported in an interview with Berliner Zeitung on Oct. 21.

According to Schroeder, the deal would have included four main points: The first was that Ukraine would abandon plans to join NATO. The second was that bans on the Russian language in Ukraine would be removed. The third was that Donbass would remain in Ukraine but function as an autonomous region. The fourth was that the U.N. and Germany would offer to supervise the security agreements. The Crimea situation was left to be addressed in the future.

Relatives, friends, and soldiers pay their last respects to Spartak Yarkin, 47, a Ukrainian who was killed in a fierce battle with Russian troops near Kiev in the early days of the war. His remains were only recently identified, and a funeral was held on Oct. 5, 2023. Many more Ukrainians and Russians continue to die in the war. | Efrem Lukatsky / AP

Lost opportunities

Arakhamia’s revelations about the talks in Belarus and Turkey show there have been several possible and realistic chances to end the war in Ukraine. But publicly, the U.S. and NATO still refuse to accept the fact that they bear any responsibility for time and again stonewalling and trashing negotiations that could have yielded peace.

Had the U.S. and NATO not sabotaged peace, the war might have ended, and Ukraine would also have kept all the territories like Lugansk and Donetsk that Russian forces have taken since then. Thousands of lives could have been saved.

The U.S. also would have avoided the very damaging proxy war defeat that some observers believe is becoming more imminent. But rather than seeking to negotiate a peace now, NATO leader Stoltenberg’s remarks betray a willingness to let the whole affair drag on for months or even years to come. Indeed, by continuing to hold out the possibility of Ukrainian membership in NATO, he is angling to sink any possibility of successful Russian-Ukrainian negotiations.

We have to wonder as well, what role does Biden’s re-election effort play in the matter? Is the sacrifice of thousands more Ukrainian and Russian lives seen by the White House as part of the price to pay in order to defeat the MAGA extremists? Surely Democratic strategists can come up with a way to win against Trump that doesn’t require further expenditure of human life in Eastern Europe.

Had the peace deals that were already on the table not been sabotaged, everyone would have been better off economically as well, except, of course, for the armaments makers. Ukraine would not be a devastated leftover of its former, already very poor self, and its economy wouldn’t be on life support from U.S. taxpayers. Germans and others in Europe would not be freezing for yet another winter due to the high energy prices caused by this war.

The Biden administration should be pushing for a ceasefire and talks, not calling for tens of billions of dollars more for additional weapons to be sent to Ukraine to prolong the war—a war that is really about weakening Russia so that U.S. imperialism can ultimately focus its attention on China.

It’s not too late to end the madness with that first important step, a ceasefire now. The war profiteers must be told they have already done enough damage. As in Gaza, the time for the peace forces to demand a ceasefire in Ukraine is now. The time for negotiations to end this war is now.

As with all op-ed and news-analytical articles published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its authors.

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.