White House Held Secret Talks With Putin Aides To Avert US-Russia War

The White House has reportedly held secretive behind-the-scenes dialogue with the Kremlin related to the war in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal revealed on Sunday, citing unnamed US and allied officials. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spearheaded the secret talks with high-level Russian officials in recent months, reportedly with the aim of reducing the risk of the two nuclear-armed superpowers stumbling into a direct broader conflict. 

"The officials said that U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan has been in contact with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Putin. Mr. Sullivan also has spoken with his direct counterpart in the Russian government, Nikolai Patrushev, the officials added," according to WSJ.

Image via Georgetown University/Center for New American Security
Image via Georgetown University/Center for New American Security

"The aim has been to guard against the risk of escalation and keep communications channels open, and not to discuss a settlement of the war in Ukraine, the officials said."

Talks between Sullivan and top Russian officials haven't been disclosed on a public level since March. In response to the WSJ story, the Biden administration neither confirmed nor denied the claims of secret contact between the two sides, with National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson when asked if Sullivan had the conversations replying in a Sunday night statement, "People claim a lot of things."

Further the report notes, "Several U.S. officials said that Mr. Sullivan is known within the administration as pushing for a line of communication with Russia, even as other top policy makers feel that talks in the current diplomatic and military environment wouldn’t be fruitful."

The report doesn't indicate whether the alleged phone calls were positive or led to a lessening of tensions from Washington's perspective, nor is it known precisely when they took place. US-Moscow relations have hit an all-time historic low in the wake of the Feb.24 invasion of Ukraine, with the two nations' top diplomats, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, having only spoken once (at least one publicly disclosed conversation) - which was focused on a potential prisoner swap. 

President Biden in an early October media interview appeared to shut the door on the possibility of talks with Putin, saying at the time, "Look, I have no intention of meeting with him. But for example, if he came to me at the G20 and said I want to talk about the release of Griner, I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend," he explained.

White House Held Secret Talks With Putin Aides To Avert US-Russia War
Left: presidential aide for foreign affairs Yuri Ushakov,

The timing of the new WSJ revelations are interesting, given the report came the day after The Washington post said the White House is now privately urging the Ukrainian government to show openness toward negotiations with Russia. US officials cited in that Saturday report say the onset of a harsh winter, and the fact that Ukraine is already experiencing rolling emergency blackouts due to Russia's attacks on the energy grid, is likely to make Zelensky amenable to ceasefire talks. 

The US officials believe that Kiev "is attempting to lock in as many military gains as it can before winter sets in, when there might be a window for diplomacy." But from Russia's perspective, the unprecedented inflows of US and Western arms to Ukrainian forces, including increasingly advanced and longer range missile systems, has also served to make diplomacy nearly impossible while increasing the risk of direct confrontation with NATO. But is there now hope of new ceasefire talks on the horizon? 

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