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An update on the efforts toward a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine


Ten minutes - that's how long Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart today on the sidelines of an international gathering in India. It was the first time the two have met in over a year, and Blinken says it was only enough time to repeat some key concerns about arms control, a U.S. prisoner in Russia and the war in Ukraine. Many countries around the world are eager to see some sort of diplomatic solution to that war, but the U.S. is skeptical, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: India didn't want the war in Ukraine to dominate the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia's actions have had ripple effects around the globe.


ANTONY BLINKEN: Every G20 member and virtually every country period continues to bear the costs of Russia's war of aggression, a war that President Putin could end tomorrow if he chose to do so.

KELEMEN: He says the U.S. wants a, quote, "just and durable peace," and that means Russia has to pull out of Ukraine. But given that Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to meet his objectives in Ukraine, he shows no signs he will walk away from the territorial gains he's made. And the Kremlin leader is still sounding rather confident, says Maria Snegovaya of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

MARIA SNEGOVAYA: He's doing well. He's quite confident that Russia is managing this conflict. And Russia has the capacity to sustain it for a while as the Western resources and Ukraine resilience, from his perspective, get exhausted.

KELEMEN: So she doesn't see any real diplomatic prospects, at least until Russia faces even more severe losses on the battlefield and more financial losses from sanctions. But there are growing calls for diplomacy around the world, particularly from countries in the Global South, hard-hit by rising food and energy costs. That's understandable, says Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: This war is a disaster for Ukraine on so many different levels, and frankly, it is for Russia as well. And so countries want that to stop.

KELEMEN: But imagine, she says, there's a robber who invaded your home and took over several rooms.

YOVANOVITCH: And when the police are called, and the police come in, and the police say - in this case, the international community - well, you know, I mean, the robber has possession of the lower part of your house. So, you know, you really should make concessions to the robber. And, you know, we can all just move forward. I mean, from a Ukrainian point of view, this is completely unacceptable.

KELEMEN: Yovanovitch says Ukraine has to win, and Russia's, quote, "imperial mindset" needs to be defeated. She's skeptical about recent peace proposals from China, as is Lise Howard of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

LISE HOWARD: It's not clear to me what would be negotiated at this point. I mean, sure, if it's negotiating a Russian troop withdrawal, then that would make sense. As China said, sovereign borders need to be upheld. That's the first point in their peace plan. So it seems to me that if we uphold the first point of China's peace plan is to uphold sovereign borders, that that would be a great negotiating point to start from.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say China is, quote, "far from being an honest broker." It has supported Russia economically and diplomatically, as it did again today in the G20 meeting, opposing a joint statement about the war in Ukraine. India, which hosted the meeting, could be in a better position to broker some kind of peace, says Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He points out that India abstained from U.N. votes on Ukraine and has been a major importer of Russian oil and gas since the war began.

ANATOL LIEVEN: On the other hand, of course, India has influence in Washington because Washington is so anxious for India to become a partner against China. So I find India perhaps the most hopeful possibility.

KELEMEN: He's not hopeful, though, of any peace process any time soon. But he says as the world and the warring parties grow tired, there could be a, quote, "provisional peace of exhaustion." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.