National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan participated in talks with top Kremlin officials in recent months aimed at reducing the risk of the Russo-Ukrainian War spilling over into a broader conflict, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Sullivan has engaged in confidential conversations with Yuri Ushakov, a top aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, U.S. and allied officials told the Wall Street Journal. The report specified that the talks were intended to “guard against the risk of escalation and keep communications channels open,” not to discuss a potential settlement to end the Ukraine conflict. It is unclear how many contacts there were and when they took place.
The White House has declined to comment on the report. “People claim a lot of things,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in response to questions about the story.
The Wall Street Journal bombshell follows shortly on the heels of a Washington Post report that the White House is privately encouraging Ukraine to express its openness to negotiate with Moscow as part of a calculated effort to maintain the support of other countries. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree last month forbidding peace talks with Russia as long as Putin remains in power. Zelenskyy’s stance has generated concerns “in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war’s disruptive effects on the availability and cost of food and fuel are felt most sharply,” according to the Washington Post. “Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” a U.S. official told the Post on the condition of anonymity.
The twin reports come on the eve of key midterm elections in the United States. Polling has shown a sharp uptick in Republican opposition to aiding Ukraine, potentially complicating the Biden administration’s effort to continue supplying Kyiv with historically unprecedented volumes of security assistance if the GOP has a strong showing on November 8.
The Kremlin declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report. "We have nothing to say about this report. Many 'fakes' are published by Anglo-Saxon newspapers. Therefore, in this case you need to contact either the newspaper or the White House," Russian news outlet Sputnik reported Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. Peskov also declined to comment on the Washington Post report that the White House has encouraged Ukraine to signal its openness to talks with Russia. "Well, we don't know if that's the case or not," he said, according to Reuters.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.