February 3, 2023

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Peace talks in Ukraine remain absent even as Moscow signals a withdrawal

“As for Crimea’s final status, that has to be negotiated or discussed between the Ukrainians and the Russians, but Crimea is Ukraine,” Colin H. Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for politics, said Tuesday.

Ukrainian military advances in Crimea, while a long way off for now, would stoke concerns in Washington over Putin’s threats to escalate the conflict.

For now, American and European leaders see their goal as containing a protracted war against Ukraine and preventing Mr Putin from deploying a tactical nuclear warhead or other weapon of mass destruction. Officials debate whether Mr Putin is bluffing when he alludes to the use of nuclear weapons, but some analysts believe control of Crimea, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, could be a red line for the Russian leader.

American officials have said for months that they are sending private and public messages to the Kremlin warning of dire consequences if Mr Putin uses nuclear weapons. Mr. Sullivan has been speaking to Nikolai Patrushev, his Russian counterpart, since the beginning of the war to try to avert misunderstandings surrounding nuclear threats, the Biden administration official said.

“I’ve known both Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken for years,” said California Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna, referring to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Mr. Khanna, who was among those who signed the progressives’ letter to Mr. Biden, continued: “I am confident that they understand the risks of nuclear war and the risks of escalation and are doing whatever they can to stand by Ukraine during it.” Minimizing the risk of conflict escalation.”

American officials have said Mr Zelensky’s private position is the same as his public one: he wants Ukrainian territory returned before 2014, and he’s not interested in trading any of that for an end to the war.

Some European officials privately question whether this position is tenable, but others argue that it is.