Faced with Defeat, Is Ukraine’s Military Leader Already Negotiating?

In a press conference prior to the NATO Foreign Minister meeting in Brussels on Nov. 28-29, Jens Stoltenberg had to recognize that “even with this substantial significant military support from NATO Allies, [Ukraine has] not, over the last year, been able to move the front line. And that just reflects the fact that we should never underestimate Russia.” He reiterated the somber forecast Dec. 2 on Germany’s ARD Tagesschau24, stating with respect to Ukraine’s future: “We should also be prepared for bad news”. He nonetheless went on to promise undying support for Kyiv now and in the future.

President Zelenskyy for his part finally admitted, in an interview with AP published Dec. 1, that the counter-offensive had not achieved the objectives set for it, while otherwise complaining that the conflict in Gaza has diverted world attention away from Ukraine, jeopardizing further economic and military assistance. Apparently, he was not asked about his internal conflict with the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, General Zaluzhny, who told The Economist last month that the war was “in a stalemate” and that Russia has the advantage (cf. SAS 45/23). Since then, the President’s allies have publicly blamed the General for the failure, some calling for his resignation, others for throwing him out. Interestingly, the mayor of Kyiv, anti-Russian fanatic Vitali Klitchko, defended Zaluzhny in an interview with the Swiss 20 Minuten. For the sake of national unity, the former boxing champion said he would support the President until the end of war, but then, “every politician will answer for his successes and failures”.

Senior U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh offered insight into this feud in a Dec. 1 article on substack.com entitled “General to General. A potential peace is being negotiated in Ukraine by military leaders”. He was told by two American sources “with direct knowledge of these matters”, that talks on a ceasefire have been underway for weeks, involving General Zaluzhny and his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov, and that the conditions for a settlement are being negotiated. According to these sources, the Ukrainian commander was convinced to go public with his interview by “some key Americans” — presumably in the intelligence community. These same sources insist, however, that both President Zelenskyy and the White House are opposed to a ceasefire at this point.

Other Russian experts point out that General Gerasimov would never carry out peace talks without the consent of President Putin, and that General Zaluzhny would only do so if he was sure of protection of the Biden Administration. The conclusion may be that Washington is looking for a way to end the war and its military commitment in Ukraine, without completely losing face, in particular as the U.S. presidential election draws nearer.

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