British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks with the Ukrainian president

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk in Kyiv on April 9, 2022. (Photo: Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson Pressured Zelenskyy to Ditch Peace Talks With Russia: Ukrainian Paper

"The British government has become an obstacle to peace in Ukraine," said the Stop the War Coalition. "The conflict there is developing into a proxy war between Russia and NATO and it is the Ukrainian people who will suffer the consequences."

The Ukrainian news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda reported Thursday that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his surprise visit to Kyiv last month to pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to cut off peace negotiations with Russia, even after the two sides appeared to have made tenuous progress toward a settlement to end the war.

Citing unnamed sources from Zelenskyy's "inner circle" and advisory team, Pravdareported that "Johnson brought two simple messages to Kyiv":

"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 are not. We can sign [an agreement] with you [Ukraine], but not with him. Anyway, he will screw everyone over," is how one of Zelenskyy's close associates summed up the essence of Johnson's visit...

Johnson's position was that the collective West, which back in February had suggested Zelenskyy should surrender and flee, now felt that Putin was not really as powerful as they had previously imagined.

Moreover, there is a chance to "press" him. And the West wants to use it.

In public remarks during his trip, Johnson vowed that the U.K.--in line with the U.S., Germany, and other western powers--would continue ramping up its "military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation."

"I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight," the right-wing British leader said, "and we are in it for the long run."

In the weeks ahead of Johnson's April 9 visit, high-level diplomatic talks held in Belarus and Turkey had failed to yield a diplomatic breakthrough, though reports in mid-March indicated that Russian and Ukrainian delegations "made significant progress" toward a 15-point peace deal that would involve Ukraine renouncing its NATO ambitions in exchange for the withdrawal of Moscow's troops.

But the talks have since been at a standstill as Russia continues its devastating and illegal assault.

On April 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the peace negotiations had reached a "dead end." And while Zelenskyy demanded a face-to-face meeting with Putin in late March, one of the Ukrainian president's advisers said in a radio interview last month that "this is still not the time for negotiations between the two presidents."

"A little later, probably, it will [happen]," said Mykhailo Podoliak. "But we want Ukraine's position in these negotiations to be very, very strong."

Johnson, too, has publicly dismissed the prospect of an imminent diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Speaking to reporters on April 20, the British prime minister said that negotiating with Putin was like dealing with "a crocodile when it's got your leg in its jaws."

"It is very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin now given his manifest lack of good faith," Johnson said. "His strategy, which is evident, is to try to engulf and capture as much of Ukraine as he can and perhaps to have some sort of negotiation from a position of strength."

It's not clear how Zelenskyy himself responded to Johnson's reported push to halt peace talks. On the same day of the British prime minister's arrival in Kyiv, Zelenskyy told the Associated Press in an interview that "no one wants to negotiate with a person or people who tortured this nation."

"It's all understandable," he continued. "And as a man, as a father, I understand this very well."

But, Zelenskyy added, "we don't want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution."

On Friday, Zelenskyy said in a virtual address to the British think tank Chatham House that "not all the bridges" to a peaceful settlement with Russia "are destroyed."

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Pravda's reporting, along with the public statements of Johnson and other western leaders, heightened longstanding concerns that global powers are actively dashing the chances of a diplomatic resolution to Russia's war, which has killed thousands of civilians and sparked a humanitarian crisis with global implications.

"The British government has become an obstacle to peace in Ukraine by encouraging the continuation of the war through huge arms shipments and incendiary rhetoric," Lindsey German, convenor of the U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition, said in a statement Friday. "The conflict there is developing into a proxy war between Russia and NATO and it is the Ukrainian people who will suffer the consequences."

"We're campaigning for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated settlement--anything less risks an escalating conflict with unfathomable consequences," German added.

Russia's invasion is now in its third month as Moscow focuses its assault on eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian forces heavily armed with western weapons look to drive Russian troops out of key cities.

"Ukrainian soldiers went on the offensive against Russian forces in northeast Ukraine on Friday... as the grueling battle for control over territory in the east increasingly turns into a brutal war of attrition, with neither side able to score a major breakthrough in the fighting," the New York Timesreported. "Ukraine's assertion that it was shifting to offensive actions in part of the country came as more sophisticated weapons and long-range artillery provided by Western allies were flowing to the front, allowing Ukraine to take more aggressive action."

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, U.S. Pentagon Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the Biden administration's objective in arming Ukrainian forces is to "see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine."

Foreign policy analysts and peace advocates perceived Austin's remarks as another troubling indication that the U.S. is committed to a long-term proxy war with Russia, one that could risk direct confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers.

"If the claim from inside President Zelenskyy's team as reported by Ukrainian media is true... it would not be inconsistent with recent U.S. actions," Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams in an email on Friday. "U.S. actions have made clear that Washington's priority is to weaken Russia, not protect Ukrainians."

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the Timesreported Wednesday that in addition to billions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry, the Biden administration has provided Ukraine with "intelligence about Russian units that has allowed Ukrainians to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in action in the Ukraine war."

The Pentagon denied the report, though agency spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged the U.S. military has provided some level of intelligence to the Ukrainians and would continue to do so.

Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, warned in a column on Thursday that "giving Ukraine intel on Russian generals is a risky gamble."

"The Biden administration and the U.S. establishment need to ask themselves just one question: If the position were reversed, how would the United States react to a third country deliberately helping to kill U.S. commanders?" Lieven wrote. "The Biden administration must move immediately to assure Russia that U.S. strategy is to help defend Ukraine, but not to impose a complete defeat on Russia and use this to weaken or destroy the Russian state."

"The first step," Lieven argued, "should be for Washington to declare publicly that it supports a diplomatic solution to the issues of the status of Crimea and the Donbas, and that if Russia will cease its offensive in Ukraine and agree to a ceasefire, the United States will respect that ceasefire."

This story has been updated to include comment from Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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