Friends, not Masters: Can Zelensky Offer Sanctions Relief to Russia?

In the spirit of apparent “reconciliation and multilateralism” defining the Biden administration’s approach to conducting international diplomacy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken handed over the “power of attorney” to the Ukrainian president to offer Russia relief from international sanctions in exchange for ending its military offensive in Ukraine.

On Sunday, April 3, confirming in an NBC News interview that Zelensky—one of the most ambitious emerging new leaders in Central Europe, not to be mistaken for an imperialist stooge—had the ability to negotiate sanctions relief for peace, Blinken, while assuming the air of magnanimity and rapprochement, revealed that President Joe Biden’s administration would support whatever the Ukrainian people wanted to do to bring the war to an end.

“We’ll be looking to see what Ukraine is doing and what it wants to do,” Blinken said. “And if it concludes that it can bring this war to an end, stop the death and destruction and continue to assert its independence and its sovereignty – and ultimately that requires the lifting of sanctions – of course, we will allow that.”

Blinken argued with overtones of diplomatic sophistry that although Putin had allegedly “failed to accomplish his objectives” in Ukraine – “subjugating Kyiv, demonstrating Russia’s military prowess and dividing NATO members” – he said it still made sense to pursue a negotiated settlement.

“Even though he’s been set back, even though I believe this is already a strategic defeat for Vladimir Putin, the death and destruction that he’s wreaking every single day in Ukraine … are terrible, and so there’s also a strong interest in bringing those to an end.”  

Lending credence to ostensible “American neutrality” and “hands-off approach” to the Ukraine crisis, the Wall Street Journal—the official voice of establishment Republicans, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, that has taken the lead in publishing insider scoops during the tenure of the Biden administration while the Democratic shills, the New York Times and Washington Post, have taken a backseat out of deference for self-styled “progressives” in the White House—published a misleading report on April Fools’ Day that German chancellor Olaf Scholz had offered Volodymyr Zelensky a chance for peace days before the launch of the Russian military offensive, but the Ukrainian president turned it down.

The newly elected chancellor told Zelensky in Munich on February 19 “that Ukraine should renounce its NATO aspirations and declare neutrality as part of a wider European security deal between the West and Russia,” the Journal revealed. The newspaper also claimed that “the pact would be signed by Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden, who would jointly guarantee Ukraine’s security.”

However, Zelensky rejected the offer to make the concession and avoid confrontation, saying that “Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t be trusted to uphold such an agreement and that most Ukrainians wanted to join NATO.”

Following the announcement of partial drawdown of Russian forces in Ukraine, specifically scaling back Russian offensive north of the capital, by the Russian delegation at the Istanbul peace initiative on March 29, the Ukrainian delegation, among other provisions, demanded “security guarantees in terms similar to Article 5,” the collective defense clause of the transatlantic NATO military alliance.

CNN reported on April Fools’ Day that Western officials were taken aback by “the surprising Ukrainian proposal.” “We are in constant discussion with Ukrainians about ways that we can help ensure that they are sovereign and secure,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said. “But there is nothing specific about security guarantees that I can speak to at this time.”

“Ukraine is not a NATO member,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC when asked whether the UK is prepared to become a guarantor of Ukrainian independence. “We’re not going to engage Russia in direct military confrontation,” he added.

While noting that Russian peace negotiations were “nothing more than a smokescreen,” Western diplomats contended that an Article 5-type commitment to Ukraine was unlikely given that the US and many of its allies, including the UK, were not willing to put their troops in direct confrontation with Russian forces. The theory that Russia would not attack Ukraine if it had Western security guarantees appears to still be a bigger risk than the US and its allies are willing to take.

As a way for Russia to “save face in the negotiations,” the Ukrainians even went to the extent of suggesting that any such security guarantees would not apply to the separatist territories in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. However, a number of US and Western officials have taken a skeptical approach to potential security guarantees, with many saying it is still premature to discuss any contingencies as the negotiations proceed.

Contradicting the misleading reports hailing Ukraine’s imperialist stooges as purported “masters of their own destinies,” President Joe Biden told the EU leaders at a summit last month in Brussels that “any notion that we are going to be out of this in a month is wrong”, and that the EU needed to prepare for a long-term pressure campaign against Russia.

US and European officials voiced skepticism over Russia’s “sincerity and commitment” towards the peace talks, underlining that only a full ceasefire, troop withdrawal and return of captured territory to Ukraine would be enough to trigger discussions over lifting sanctions on Russia’s economy.

“The notion that you would reward Putin for occupying territory doesn’t make sense … it would be very, very difficult to countenance” a senior EU official confided to the Financial Times. “There’s a disconnect between these negotiations, what really happens on the ground, and the total cynicism of Russia. I think we need to give them a reality check,” the official added.

Western countries were discussing both “enforcement of existing sanctions” and drawing up “potential additional measures” to increase pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin, senior EU and US officials told the British newspaper. They were not discussing a possible timeframe for easing sanctions, they said.

Advising Ukrainians to hold out instead of rushing for securing peace deal with Russia, the Sunday Times reported, senior British officials were urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to instruct his negotiators to refuse to make concessions during peace negotiations with Russian counterparts.

A senior government source said there were concerns that allies were “over-eager” to secure an early peace deal, adding that a settlement should be reached only when Ukraine is in the strongest possible position.

In a phone call, Boris Johnson warned President Zelensky that President Putin was a “liar and a bully” who would use talks to “wear you down and force you to make concessions.” The British prime minister also told MPs it was “certainly inconceivable that any sanctions could be taken off simply because there is a ceasefire.” London was making sure there was “no backsliding on sanctions by any of our friends and partners around the world,” he added.

Speaking to CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, April 3, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “NATO allies have supported Ukraine for many, many years,” adding that military aid has been “stepped up over the last weeks since the invasion.” The official clarified that “NATO allies like the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Canada and some others, have trained Ukrainian troops for years.”

According to Stoltenberg’s estimates, “tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops” had received such training, and were now “at the front fighting against invading Russian forces.” The secretary general went on to credit the Brussels-based alliance with the fact that the “Ukrainian armed forces are much bigger, much better equipped, much better trained and much better led now than ever before.”

In addition to a longstanding CIA program aimed at cultivating an anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, Canada’s Department of National Defense revealed on January 26, two days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that the Canadian Armed Forces had trained “nearly 33,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel in a range of tactical and advanced military skills.” While The United Kingdom, via Operation Orbital, had trained 22,000 Ukrainian fighters, as noted by NATO’s informed secretary general.

A “prophetic” RAND Corporation report titled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia” published in 2019 declares the stated goal of American policymakers is “to undermine Russia just as the US subversively destabilized the former Soviet Union during the Cold War,” and predicts to the letter the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. RAND Corporation is a quasi-US governmental think tank that receives three-quarters of its funding from the US military.

While designating Russia as an “intractable adversary,” the report notes that “Russia has deep seated anxieties” about Western interference and potential military attack. These anxieties are deemed to be “a vulnerability to exploit.”

The RAND report lists several “provocative measures” to insidiously “destabilize and undermine” Russia. Some of the steps include: repositioning bombers within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets; deploying additional tactical nuclear weapons to locations in Europe and Asia; increasing US and allied naval force posture and presence in Russia’s operating areas (Black Sea); holding NATO war exercises on Russia’s borders; and withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Almost all the provocative actions recommended in the RAND report have practically been implemented by the successive Obama, Trump and Biden administrations since the 2014 Maidan coup, toppling Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and consequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.

The full RAND report says: “While NATO’s requirement for unanimity makes it unlikely that Ukraine could gain membership in the foreseeable future, Washington’s pushing this possibility could boost Ukrainian resolve while leading Russia to redouble its efforts to forestall such a development.”

In November 2021, the US and Ukraine signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership. The agreement confirmed “Ukraine’s aspirations for joining NATO” and “rejected the Crimean decision to re-unify with Russia” following the 2014 Maidan coup.

In December 2021, Russia proposed a peace treaty with the US and NATO. The central Russian proposal was a written agreement assuring that Ukraine would not join the NATO military alliance. When the proposed treaty was contemptuously rebuffed by Washington, it appeared the die was cast.

The Intercept reported on March 11 that despite staging a massive military buildup along Russia’s border with Ukraine for nearly a year, “Russian President Vladimir Putin did not make a final decision to invade until just before he launched the attack on February 24,” senior current and former US intelligence officials told the Intercept. “It wasn’t until February that the agency and the rest of the US intelligence community became convinced that Putin would invade,” the senior official added.

Last April, US intelligence first detected that “the Russian military was beginning to move large numbers of troops and equipment to the Ukrainian border.” Most of the Russian soldiers deployed to the border at that time were later “moved back to their bases,” but US intelligence determined that “some of the troops and materiel remained near the border.”

In June 2021, against the backdrop of rising tensions over Ukraine, Biden and Putin met at a summit in Geneva. The summer troop withdrawal brought a brief period of calm, but “the crisis began to build again in October and November,” when US intelligence watched as Russia once again “moved large numbers of troops back to its border with Ukraine.”

Extending the hand of friendship, Russia significantly drawdown its forces along the western border before the summit last June. Instead of returning the favor, however, the conceited leadership of supposedly world’s sole surviving super power turned down the hand of friendship and haughtily refused to concede reasonable security guarantees demanded by Russia at the summit that would certainly have averted the likelihood of the war.

Considering this backdrop of the Russo-Ukraine War deliberately orchestrated by NATO powers to insidiously destabilize and internationally isolate Russia, it stretches credulity that the Ukrainian president “wields veto power” over NATO’s decision offering Russia relief from international sanctions in exchange for ending its military offensive in Ukraine, as contended by the charismatic albeit devious secretary of state.

Are readers gullible enough to assume the Ukrainian proposals for a peace treaty with Russia were put forth without prior consultation with NATO patrons and the latter cannot exercise enough leverage to compellingly persuade the impervious Ukrainian leadership to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia, particularly after the Russian peacemaker has unilaterally offered a major concession to Kyiv, focusing on liberating Russian-majority Donbas region in east Ukraine and scaling back Russian offensive in the rest of the embattled country?

About the author:

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based geopolitical and national security analyst focused on geo-strategic affairs and hybrid warfare in the Af-Pak and Middle East regions. His domains of expertise include neocolonialism, military-industrial complex and petro-imperialism. He is a regular contributor of diligently researched investigative reports to alternative news media.


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