UpdateA group of senior former US officials has been holding secret peace talks for months with key Russians with close ties to the Kremlin. NBC News reports. According to the news channel, at least one of those talks was attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. However, the White House denies that such talks are taking place at the behest of the Biden administration.
According to several sources of the NBC news channel, the talks were about the possibility of laying the groundwork for peace talks. For example, Lavrov reportedly spent several hours talking to the group about Ukraine during a visit to the United Nations in New York in April. NBC reported that the US government was aware of the activities of the informal “dialogue group” but did not direct it.
One of the tough topics is what to do with Ukrainian territory that has fallen into the hands of pro-Russian Ukrainians or Russian armed forces since 2014. In the eastern part of the Donbass, many have wanted no contact since 2014 with the pro-Western central government in Kiev. And on the Crimean Peninsula, the majority are ethnic Russians.
Vision Zelensky “unrealistic”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said since early 2014 that he does not want to negotiate until all Ukrainian territories are recaptured. But according to NBC, too many military and policymakers in Washington don’t see that as a reality. They believe that there are Ukrainian territories that Zelensky cannot recapture. They hope for negotiations after Zelensky’s counter-offensive, which has so far not yielded much. There should be a ceasefire and a demilitarized zone.
Members of the panel reportedly include former diplomat Richard Haas, who ran the Council on Foreign Relations from 2003 until this month. The other two leaders of the think tank are said to belong to secret support groups. They previously worked at the White House and the State Department. According to NBC sources, their main objective was to keep communication open with the Russian government. Three named people from the think tank declined to comment.
The news channel does not know how many times these informal conversations took place. On one occasion, at least one member of the group reportedly traveled to Moscow and held talks with heads of Russian think tanks or research institutions. NBC sources declined to name any Russians for security reasons.
The White House responded
“The Biden administration has not approved such negotiations,” a State Department spokeswoman said Thursday in response to questions from reporters. “As we have repeatedly said, there is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” The speaker was referring to the government’s policy not to discuss possible negotiations to end the war without involving Ukrainian officials.
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There was communication between Russia and America about the Wagner Rebellion. CIA director William Burns called on Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR intelligence agency, last week. This was reported by the American newspapers ‘The New York Times’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal’. During the conversation, Burns reportedly assured the Kremlin that the U.S. played no role in the short-lived insurgency.
This is the highest level of contact between the US and Russia since the uprising. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, rebelled against a Russian defense summit a week ago. Prigozhin’s mercenary group Wagner was moving towards Moscow. The rebellion ended after the mediation of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Wagner’s employer was not prosecuted and later fled to Belarus.
America was not involved in the Wagner uprising
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the uprising that his country was investigating whether Western officials had anything to do with it. US President Joe Biden had already insisted on Monday that the US and its allies were not involved.
According to The Washington Post, Burns recently traveled to Ukraine for a secret meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is not known exactly when the visit took place, but it would have been before the Wagner Rebellion.
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