Putin is ready for talks on Ukraine, but on his own terms The war between Russia and Ukraine
On February 8, American television broadcaster Tucker Carlson released a… Two-hour interview With Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was the Russian leader’s first meeting with a Western journalist since the start of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The interview was met with much ridicule in the West, largely centered on the first part, in which Putin suggested he would talk about Russian-Ukrainian history for 30 seconds and then went on to brag about medieval princes and long-extinct empires. A good half hour.
Some of his claims were downright shocking, such as his suggestion that Poland precipitated World War II by failing to meet Hitler’s demands. Others reflect a view of history tied to Russian nationalist myths, which are hardly worse than Ukraine’s – the ones that Ukrainians in the West tend to pass off as the country’s legitimate history.
Although the interview provided plenty of Western ridicule, it also contained some important messages that Western observers ignored amid their continued dismissal of the very likely possibility that Putin would end the war in Ukraine on his own terms.
Throughout his conversation with Carlson, the Russian leader appeared to channel feelings of being continually deceived by the West and show an unwavering determination to never be deceived again.
The Russian President spoke about Ukraine’s invitation to join NATO, which was issued at the Bucharest summit in 2008. It was known that Germany and France opposed this invitation at the time, and only a small minority of Ukrainians supported the idea. According to Putin, US President George W. Bush pushed the decision that sparked a series of events that eventually led to the conflict in Ukraine.
He told Carlson that at the time his German and French counterparts were repeatedly assuring him that Ukraine would not really join NATO, but he had no reason to believe these assurances. He added that if the United States can pressure them to agree to Ukraine’s invitation, there is no guarantee that it will not do so again to bring the country into NATO.
Later in the interview, Putin spoke about the February 2014 agreement between the Ukrainian government and the opposition. It was supposed, with the mediation of France, Germany and Poland, to end the violence at the most dramatic point in the Maidan Revolution in Kiev. Putin said that instead of adhering to it, the opposition proceeded to overthrow the government of Viktor Yanukovych, at which point the Western sponsors threw the agreement “into the oven.”
At the end of his lecture on history, he brought up the Istanbul talks in March 2022, which could have ended the current war in Ukraine. He claimed to have removed troops from areas around Kiev at the insistence of Western leaders in order to facilitate talks, whereupon the Ukrainians abandoned the agreements at the request of the West — specifically British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The claim that the withdrawal was deliberate is not plausible because Russian forces in northern Ukraine were too spread out and suffering heavy casualties due to the Ukrainian army’s guerrilla tactics. They probably had to be withdrawn anyway. But the feeling of being deceived was again present and should inform his further actions.
Putin seems to view the history of his relationship with Western and Ukrainian leaders as a series of insults and betrayals, to which he responded in his own brutal style: not an eye for an eye, but a punishment that grows exponentially each time. The opponent shows remarkable intransigence. However, his policy, at least from his own point of view, was always reactive, not proactive.
Whether in good faith or in bad faith, the message he was trying to get across in the interview was that at every crucial point in history, Ukraine had the choice to spare itself all further trouble, and it still has that choice now. He is ready for talks. Several times in the interview, he mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for preventing himself from speaking to Putin by presidential decree. He urged his Ukrainian counterpart to cancel this decision.
Putin’s end game appears to be to reach an agreement along the lines of what was initially achieved in Istanbul, but this time with all the territories that Russia formally occupied and annexed after the failure of these talks. The implicit threat here is that Ukraine will lose more territory – not to mention lives and infrastructure – if it continues to be stubborn.
What Putin is trying to achieve is to make the West face a moral dilemma: the costs and benefits of resisting its aggression. Continued support for the Ukrainian military effort will cost thousands of lives and lead to further devastation in Ukraine, while success is not guaranteed.
The bet does not seem to be in Kiev’s favor under the current circumstances: Russian forces Moving forward Along the front line, US military aid to Ukraine is at risk due to Republican resistance.
But a return to the Istanbul framework would mean a clear defeat for both Ukraine and the West, no matter how much effort those promoting fabrication and deception will make to frame it as a victory.
It will be Ukrainians, more than anyone else, who will wonder why all these enormous sacrifices when an agreement could have been signed in Istanbul in March 2022 or the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which Zelensky has publicly described as “trivial.” Days before Putin ordered his forces to advance towards Ukraine.
Unless the situation miraculously changes, Ukraine currently appears far from achieving any semblance of what was envisioned in Minsk or Istanbul, and is drifting toward further misery. The ridicule of Putin’s interview will no doubt continue in a closed echo chamber that has long been out of touch with reality.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.
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