According to some articles, the White House’s national-security adviser Jake Sullivan has held secret talks with Putin aide Yuri Ushakov to avert a US-Russian war.
The Wall Street Journal claimed on Sunday, citing anonymous US and allied sources, that the White House and the Kremlin had reportedly had private, behind-the-scenes discussions over the conflict in Ukraine. The recent covert meetings between senior Russian officials and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were purportedly conducted to lessen the possibility that the two nuclear-armed giants would accidentally engage in a broader conflict.
“The officials said that U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan has been in contact with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Putin. Mr. Sullivan also has spoken with his direct counterpart in the Russian government, Nikolai Patrushev, the officials added,” according to WSJ.
“The aim has been to guard against the risk of escalation and keep communications channels open, and not to discuss a settlement of the war in Ukraine, the officials said.”
There hasn’t been any public mention of Sullivan’s discussions with top Russian officials since March. The Biden administration did not confirm or deny the WSJ report’s allegations of covert communication between the two sides, with National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson responding in a statement on Sunday night that “people claim a lot of things” when asked if Sullivan had the conversations.
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According to additional information in the report, “Several U.S. officials said that Mr. Sullivan is known within the administration as pushing for a line of communication with Russia, even as other top policy makers feel that talks in the current diplomatic and military environment wouldn’t be fruitful.”
According to the report, the allegedly beneficial phone calls did not result in a reduction in tensions for Washington, nor is it known with certainty when they occurred. After the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, relations between the US and Russia have never been worse. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov have only spoken once (at least once publicly disclosed conversation), during which they discussed a possible prisoner swap.
In an early October media interview, President Biden appeared to rule out the possibility of meeting with Putin, saying at the time,”Look, I have no intention of meeting with him. But for example, if he came to me at the G20 and said I want to talk about the release of Griner, I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend,” he explained.
The publication of the new WSJ revelations comes one day after The Washington Post reported that the White House is now quietly pressing the Ukrainian leadership to be open to negotiations with Russia. This makes the timing of the piece interesting. According to US sources quoted in that Saturday story, Zelensky is likely to be open to ceasefire negotiations because of the impending winter and the fact that Ukraine is already facing rolling emergency blackouts as a result of Russian attacks on the energy grid.
Kiev, in the opinion of US officials, “is attempting to lock in as many military gains as it can before winter sets in, when there might be a window for diplomacy.” From Russia’s standpoint, however, the enormous influx of US and Western weapons into the hands of Ukrainian forces, particularly more sophisticated and long-range missile systems, has also increased the likelihood of direct conflict with NATO while making diplomacy all but impossible. But is there now a chance for fresh negotiations on a ceasefire?