U.S. official: No clear path to negotiate an end to Russia's war in Ukraine

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A top State Department official appeared to negate any chance of a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, saying in a Tuesday interview that he sees no hope for negotiations to end the war given that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces seem intent “on bringing as much violence to Ukraine as they possibly can.”

“I wish I saw an opening for diplomacy right now, but I don’t,” said State Department Counselor Derek Chollet in an interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.

Chollet has been one of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s top advisers during a whirlwind period in which Russia’s invasion has spurred an international crisis and led to allegations of war crimes by U.S. officials, including President Biden.

Chollet noted that placing diplomacy front and center was among “the foundational principles” of the Biden administration’s approach to foreign policy and “and, boy, we tried really hard before the invasion to find a diplomatic way out of this.”

But, he said, Russian officials spurned U.S. efforts and the on-again, off-again talks among Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have gone nowhere.

“They have not progressed to this point in a way that I’m optimistic about having some sort of diplomatic solution,” he said. “I think the Russians seem very intent on basically bringing as much violence to Ukraine as they possibly can.”

New graves for people killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine
New graves for people killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at a cemetery in Irpin, Ukraine. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

The comments by Chollett, who served as an assistant secretary of defense for international security during the Obama administration, are especially noteworthy given that he now serves at the senior undersecretary level at State, the department whose primary mission is to conduct diplomacy.

But the path to any kind of diplomatic off-ramp has been complicated by the brutality of the Russian invasion combined with continued uncertainty about what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government would accept as part of a negotiated settlement.

“I mean, this is the Russians perpetrating these actions, right? Perpetrating these atrocities,” Chollett said. “So that’s why our position has been, we are going to do whatever we can to support the victims of this invasion, the Ukrainians.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting on Monday outside Moscow. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

Asked if U.S. officials would back a settlement that accepts the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and a possible referendum in the eastern regions of the country in exchange for a Russian withdrawal, Chollett replied: “First, it’s not clear to me what the Ukrainians are going to accept. And I think, first and foremost, this is not for us to dictate the terms to the Ukrainians on what they should accept in terms of defending their own country. ... They’re going to have to make decisions as a sovereign state about what they would accept.”

Moreover, Chollett said, he believes Putin’s original aim went far beyond control of Donbas, the eastern region of the country where the Russians have mounted a major new offensive. Instead, he said, it was “to take down the Ukrainian government.”