Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that Moscow is open to talks with the West while striking an uncompromising tone on Russia’s negotiating position seven months into the Russo-Ukrainian War.
"It is a lie, I can tell you that right here,” Lavrov said in an interview on Russian television in response to prior assertions by U.S. officials that the Kremlin is not open to negotiations. "We have said many times that we never refuse to hold meetings. If a proposal is received, we will consider it," Lavrov said, according to Russian state news outlet TASS.
Lavrov reiterated the Kremlin’s position that the United States, which has kept the Ukrainian war effort afloat through substantial military aid and intelligence-sharing programs, is not just a participant in the conflict but is Kyiv’s main backer. "The way I see it, de facto the Americans have been participating in this war for a long time. They are not only arming [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky and his regime. They are providing intelligence data from satellites,” he said.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, suggested in an earlier interview with ABC that Russia is not willing to engage in peace talks. "We all want to see this war end. ... And what needs to happen is for the two sides to be able to sit down and negotiate and find a way out of this peacefully and diplomatically,” he said. "Mr. Putin has shown no indications—zero, none—that he's willing to do that.”
Lavrov doubled down on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s hardening rhetoric and maximalist wartime objectives. "As for the limits of the goals that we set during our special military operation, the president has outlined these goals, they remain unchanged. They will be achieved. Ukraine shouldn’t be a terrorist state that terrorizes its own citizens," he said. "We cannot [allow] Ukraine to constitute a constant security threat to the Russian Federation, I’m referring to its plans to join NATO and the stationing of weapons on Ukrainian territory, which would pose such a threat.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree shortly on the heels of Moscow’s decision to annex four Ukrainian regions—Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk—declaring the prospect of peace talks with Russia impossible as long as Putin remains in power.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price dismissed Lavrov's apparent overture in a briefing on Tuesday. “We see this as posturing. We do not see this as a constructive, legitimate offer to engage in the dialogue and diplomacy that is absolutely necessary to see an end to this brutal war of aggression against the people and the state, the Government of Ukraine,” he said. “If the Russians want to signal that they’re serious about dialogue and diplomacy, perhaps—and again, without being prescriptive, but perhaps a good first step would be to stop the kind of brutal assault followed by what appear to be nothing more than empty words,” Price added, referring to Russia’s unprecedented spate of attacks against critical Ukrainian infrastructure targets on Monday.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.