Russian officials, speaking on the basis of anonymity to Reuters, said Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached out to the US through intermediaries – to no avail – with a ceasefire proposal that would allow Moscow to freeze the conflict and retain occupied territories. Washington denied the claim.

Reuters said the information came from “three Russian sources with knowledge of the discussions.”

According to the sources, Putin has both publicly and privately expressed willingness to introduce a ceasefire in Ukraine – the latter through Moscow’s Arab partners in the Middle East and beyond in late 2023 and early 2024.

Intermediaries purportedly met in Turkey in late 2023, where Putin’s proposal was relayed to top US officials. The idea was for White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to meet with Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy advisor, to further the discussions.

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The proposal would include freezing the war at the current line and allowing Moscow to retain occupied Ukrainian territories, a path the unnamed Russian sources perceived as the best-case scenario for Putin’s regime.

However, the US reportedly rejected any discussions on Ukraine without Kyiv’s participation, with one of the Russian sources claiming that the US did not want to pressure Ukraine.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, reiterated Washington’s stance of no talks on Ukraine without Ukraine and rejected claims of any back-channel discussions between Washington and Moscow.

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However, the official said there might have been “Track II” conversations between Russians outside of the government, but Washington was not involved.

A Russian source said Washington did not believe Putin’s proposal to be sincere.

“The Americans didn’t believe Putin was genuine about a ceasefire – but he was and is – he is ready to discuss a ceasefire. But equally Putin is also ready to fight on for as long as it takes – and Russia can fight for as long as it takes,” said the Russian source.

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Facts vs speculation

At of now, it is not possible to ascertain whether discussions of this kind did, in fact, take place due to a lack of conclusive evidence.

However, three things remain certain:

Kyiv has long maintained the stance that a ceasefire in Ukraine, without the full withdrawal of Russian troops, would simply allow Moscow to rebuild its troops for future aggressions, as evidenced by its annexation of Crimea and armed proxies in the Donbas eight years prior to the full-scale invasion.

Putin is also well aware of Kyiv’s unwillingness to give up its territories.

However, making an apparent ceasefire intention known to the world would play in Putin’s favor. Whether it was sincere or not – and whether the discussions took place – do not matter in the end.

Assuming the talks did take place, and through miraculous circumstances a ceasefire is introduced under Moscow’s terms, Putin would be able to declare victory to the Russian population – perhaps ahead of his presidential election.

Assuming the talks never took place and Putin is aware of Washington’s official stance and Kyiv’s position on potential ceasefires, he and his mouthpieces can still declare to the world that Moscow tried to end the war and that ultimately the West and Ukraine are to blame for the prolonged hostilities.

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Domestically, the gesture might also pacify any anti-war sentiment prior to the presidential election.

As the war in Ukraine inches toward the three-year mark, many have called on Ukraine to lower its expectations and accept the current terms, however unfavorable.

But for Ukrainians, only they can determine the price they are willing pay for peace on their own territories.

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