Opinion | Putin seems to want to talk. The U.S. should take him up on it.

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The need for more dialogue between Russia and the United States is glaringly obvious. But it should focus on preventing a dangerous conflict between the two countries, rather than making efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine.

The conflict in Ukraine, for all its dangers, has not reached a peaceful settlement. Ukraine is going to war, and Russia, thanks to all its nuclear weapons, is out of whack. Ukraine’s opposition wants to restore all of its territory, while Russia refuses to leave. So, there is no middle ground, for now.

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When you have an insoluble problem, expand it. This is a well-known management, and it is valid here. The United States should not (and could not) order a ceasefire in Kyiv; rather, it must maintain the flow of weapons, reliably and patiently. But it needs to find new ways to show that the United States does not want to destroy Russia and wants to avoid direct military conflict.

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A shaken Russia seems willing to communicate these days, even though it has been sending a distorted and misleading message. A recent example was Thursday’s speech by President Vladimir Putin. He reiterated his usual grievances with the West, but another theme was that Russia wanted to negotiate.

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“Soon, the new center of the world order and the West will begin to negotiate a common future,” Putin told the annual conference in Moscow. The Biden White House should forget the weirdness of his realism: Take him seriously; answer his message.

An example of Russia’s recent contacts – and the US’s positive response – was the growing number of accusations surrounding an alleged Ukrainian plot to develop a radiological “dirty bomb”. To many Western experts, this appears to be a propaganda by the Kremlin, perhaps to justify the use of nuclear weapons in Russia. This review seems possible to me as well. But it is also possible that Putin really believes and thinks he has proof.

The Kremlin pushed every communication button at its disposal. The Russian defense minister invited his US counterpart, twice, as well as the defense ministers of Britain, France and Turkey. A Russian military chief conveyed the same message to his Pentagon counterpart. Russia raised the issue with the UN Security Council. Putin himself repeated the accusation.

What did the Biden administration do? Wisely, while denying the claims, it moved quickly last week to encourage the investigation of Rafael Grossi, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. In order to facilitate Grossi’s trip to Ukraine, White House and State Department officials called on their Ukrainian counterparts. Within 24 hours, the Biden administration found an international conference to resolve the crisis (temporarily) and respond to Russia’s major complaints.

This approach to crisis communication should be replicated in any environment that could lead to – shall we say – World War III. I think Putin is a liar and a bully, and I believe that the Ukrainians will continue to beat Russia on the battlefield. But the United States also has a strong national interest in avoiding direct war with Russia, as Biden has repeatedly said.

Some orders of engagement have emerged during eight months of fierce fighting. In order to demonstrate the US desire to avoid direct conflict, the Pentagon keeps its planes away from Russian planes and its ships outside of Russian waters. Biden told Ukraine that our support is strong but not limited. Kyiv wanted a no-fly zone with Army Tactical Missile Systems that could target Russian cities. Biden said no to both.

Kyiv appears ready to take on increasing threats, especially in secret operations, that the United States does not agree with. According to the story of Oct. 5 in the New York Times, US intelligence confirmed that Ukrainian workers were responsible for the bombing in August that killed Daria Dugina, a daughter of Russian descent, and warned Kyiv later that it strongly opposed this. attack.

There is much that Washington needs to communicate with Moscow – about what it can and cannot do – through covert channels. In the run-up to the conflict, Putin was seeking security guarantees from NATO. Diplomats should resume the negotiations. Biden should reiterate his desire to limit missile deployments, share information on war games and avoid escalation. Let’s remember that this type of assurance was the solution to the Cuban missile problem. The secret was: We will remove our nukes from Turkey if you remove yours from Cuba.

Deterrence is an inevitable part of the Russian-US investment. Russia knows that if it attacks the United States directly (or uses nuclear weapons), it will pay a heavy price. This applies to the unusual threat of Wednesday by the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Konstantin Vorontsov that the commercial satellites of Ukraine could be “a legitimate target for retaliation.”

Part of this deterrence message is that the United States does not want to destroy Russia. Nuclear power cannot embarrass each other. Putin may lose the war he foolishly started, but that is not the country’s fault. We cannot save him from the consequences of his folly.

Most conversations make sense – if they look right. The United States should not try to negotiate now about the end of the war in Ukraine. This is Kyiv’s opportunity. Even if the United States wanted to implement a solution to this problem, it could not. But the time has come to discuss how we can prevent this terrible war from getting worse.

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