Given their lack of information about the Ukraine-Russia deal scuttled by Boris Johnson early in the war, many Americans will be inclined to believe Biden’s evidence-free claims in last week’s CNN debate. 

At Thursday’s debate with Donald Trump, President Joe Biden, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” claimed that he “wants all of Ukraine. … Do you think he’ll stop? … What do you think happens to Poland and other places?”

Spoiler Alert: Official Ukrainian sources confirm that Putin did stop in March 2022, after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky agreed to forswear membership in NATO. This was the key provision in the Ukraine-Russia deal initialed by Davyd Arakhamia, who at the time was Zelensky’s chief negotiator (and his party’s faction leader in the Rada) at the talks in Istanbul at the end of March, hardly a month into the war.

The Russians lifted their objection to Ukraine joining the EU, as the Ukrainians agreed to neutrality. Security guarantees sought by Kyiv (short of NATO membership) would be worked out. The fighting would stop. Agreement on the status of Crimea would be put off to the future.

Putin and Zelensky reportedly were micromanaging the March 2022 negotiations, and at that early stage the Russians expressed readiness for the two to meet.

At the same time that Biden and other Western leaders raise the alarm that Putin will attack other parts of Europe when he’s through with Ukraine, they claim Russia can’t even take the Ukrainian province of Kharkiv, has lost more than 500,000 men to just 30,000 Ukrainians and its economy is faltering (none of which is true.)  But Cold War Western power was based on an exaggerated Soviet threat and the same is true today.

Ukrainian Negotiator Spills the Beans

In a November 2023 Kyiv Post report titled “Russia Offered to End War in 2022 If Ukraine Scrapped NATO Ambitions – Zelensky Party Chief,”  Arakhamia confirmed that in the March 2022 negotiations Russia proposed ending the war on the condition that Ukraine abandon its NATO aspirations and adopt a neutral stance.

Arakhamia continued:

“Neutrality was the biggest thing for them, they were ready to end the war if we took — as Finland once did — neutrality and made commitments that we would not join NATO. This was the key point.

While negotiations continued in Istanbul, former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson unexpectedly arrived in Kyiv on April 9 and said that Ukraine shouldn’t sign anything with them at all – and ‘let’s just fight’.”

Arakhamia’s candor was refreshing. But it came as no surprise to those of us following Ukraine in early 2022. On May 5, 2022 — a year and a half before Arakhamia spilled the beans to the Kyiv Post — Ukrainska Pravda ran a report under the title “Possibility of talks between Zelensky and Putin came to a halt after Johnson’s visit:

“According to sources close to Zelenskyy, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, who appeared in the capital almost without warning, brought two simple messages.

The first is that Putin is a war criminal, he should be pressured, not negotiated with. And the second is that even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin, they [the West] are not. The collective West felt that Putin was not really as powerful as they had previously imagined, and that here was a chance to press him.”

Three days after Johnson left Kyiv, Putin publicly stated that talks with Ukraine had “turned into a dead end.” Putin expressed confidence that Russia would ultimately prevail and added that it would “rhythmically and calmly” continue conducting the operation in Ukraine.

Putin Provides Detail

In his major speech to the Russian Foreign Ministry on June 14, Putin said the Russian troops approaching Kyiv in February-March 2022 were there “to push the Ukrainian side to negotiations.”

From Feb. 24 on, the Russians had expressed readiness for diplomacy. Interestingly, Zelensky appointed Arakhamia chief negotiator on Feb. 28.

Putin continued:

“Surprisingly, as a result, agreements that satisfied both Moscow and Kyiv were indeed reached and initialed in Istanbul. … The document was titled ‘Agreement on Permanent Neutrality and Security Guarantees for Ukraine’. It was a compromise but  resolved the problems that were stated as major ones even at the start of the special military operation.

But the path to peace was rejected again. … The former UK prime minister said directly during his visit to Kyiv – no agreements. Russia must be defeated on the battlefield. … Thus they began to intensively pump Ukraine up with weapons and started talking about the need to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia.”

Biden & Pseudo-Experts on Russia

Who has been telling Biden that Putin “will not stop at Ukraine?” Exhibit A would be Fiona Hill, disciple of arch-Russophobe historian Richard Pipes, and national intelligence officer for Russia (2006-09).

Her insights appeared in The New York Times exactly a month before Russia invaded Ukraine.

On Jan. 24, 2022, the Times featured a guest essay by Hill titled “Putin has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It”:

“This time, Mr. Putin’s aim is bigger than closing NATO’s ‘open door’ to Ukraine and taking more territory — he wants to evict the United States from Europe. As he might put it: ‘Goodbye, America. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’”  [Emphasis added.]

Fiona Hill’s NYT essay about Putin driving the U.S. out of Europe had a short (two-month) shelf life, as Putin’s negotiators in Istanbul extracted a Ukrainian commitment not to seek NATO membership and a stop in hostilities. Hill admitted as much in a September/October 2022 Foreign Affairs article which included, briefly, the substance of the Istanbul agreement.

This may be damning with faint praise but, in this respect, Fiona Hill showed far more integrity than theTimes, which continues to deny its readers the facts about the Istanbul accord and how it showed that in March-April 2022 Putin did stop once Ukrainian negotiators agreed to forswear membership in NATO.

With Putin having provided, in his June 14 speech, chapter and verse on the (aborted by Boris Johnson) “Agreement on Permanent Neutrality and Security Guarantees for Ukraine,” the Times wasted no time distorting the terms of the Istanbul accord, mostly by omission and turgid obfuscation, in publishing two highly deceptive articles on June 15.

Neither article mentions  Johnson’s wrecking-ball role in scuttling the Istanbul accord. And even the subsequent admissions of Ukrainian negotiators are mangled.

Thus, New York Times readers, and the thousands of media outlets that take their lead from the Times, are once again misled on a crucial issue — one for which there is ample official Ukrainian testimony that the Times chooses to omit or fudge. And many Americans will be inclined to believe Biden’s evidence-free claims about Putin’s ultimate objectives, and to acquiesce in the dangerously growing tension with Russia — malnourished as they are on accurate information.

For many it will come down to: Between Biden and Putin, Americans “know” whom to believe!

Putin’s Take

Speaking to Western journalists on June 5, Putin cautioned:

“You should not make Russia out to be the enemy. You’re only hurting yourself with this … They thought that Russia wanted to attack NATO. Have you gone completely crazy? … Who came up with this? It is just complete nonsense, you know? Total rubbish.”

Sadly, it is the kind of nonsense that could mislead Americans, conditioned to believe the worst of Russia, into supporting some kind of risky escalatory move by an administration determined to show how tough it is, as the November election inches closer and closer. Strap on your seatbelts.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27 years as a C.I.A. analyst included leading the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and conducting the morning briefings of the President’s Daily Brief. In retirement he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Source: Consortium News

Photo: Johnson and Zelensky walking through the centre of Kyiv on 9 April 2022.