I FOUND my ears pricking up the other day listening to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking at the UN General Assembly. The remark that especially caught my attention was when he cautioned against “shady dealings behind the scenes” among nations seeking peace in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Just what country or countries might Zelenskyy be referring to I found myself asking, my suspicions going into overdrive having last month read an opinion piece in the Kyiv Post written by the Russian dissident Garry Kasparov echoing such a view.

I say piece, but that would be to do Kasparov’s article a disservice by way of description. For this was a pretty searing indictment of what he believes – albeit based on “circumstantial evidence,” – amount to attempts through back-channel dealing by the US administration that might result in a Washington U-turn on its Ukraine policy.

In support of his supposition, Kasparov flags up how US president Joe Biden has elevated CIA director Bill Burns to his cabinet, thus “formalising” Burns’s role as Biden’s negotiator with hostile regimes.

He likewise highlights how Biden’s advisers initially tried to negotiate with Russia behind Ukraine’s back, then, having failed to make a deal with Vladimir Putin, Biden’s team “prepared to surrender Ukraine to the Kremlin”.

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Kasparov’s fear he said, was that the Biden administration may be covertly negotiating with Russia to reach “land for peace” deals with Putin, an outcome that we’re certainly beginning to hear proposed with growing regularity albeit for the moment from the political sidelines rather than the mainstream.

Those siren voices urging such a strategy I’ve no doubt will continue to grow and there are at least two reasons why. The first is that with winter approaching and no perceived major Ukrainian breakthrough as such on the battlefield, calls for a ceasefire are sure to get louder.

The second is that next year sees a US presidential election and already continuing military and weapons support for Ukraine has become a “hot” issue, especially in some Republican ranks.

To that end, Biden’s continuing strategy in Ukraine could prove a crucial issue in determining whether he gains another term in office. As for whoever turns out to be his Republican rival they are certain to use it for all the electoral leverage they can.

Those of you reading this will no doubt have your own views as to whether “land for peace” and a negotiated ceasefire is a direction worth pursuing in ending Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Or perhaps like me, you think it should be a case of no truck with Putin by way of concessions that will only embolden him.

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I unequivocally favour the latter for one simple reason. I believe now just as I did after Russia’s invasion that such aggression cannot be allowed to go unchecked. And yes, I’m more than familiar with the arguments that Nato “expansionism” played a role in Russia going to war.

Sure, the West could perhaps have done more by way of reassuring Moscow over such things, but frankly I’ve never believed that this would have made much difference to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine an independent sovereign nation.

The key reason why Putin is unlikely to negotiate anyway is that this is not simply a conventional war for territory. Instead, this is a premeditated war aimed at eradicating – as suggested in Putin’s 2021 essay On The Historical Unity Of Russians And Ukrainians – the idea and reality of an independent Ukraine. This of course is nothing new from the Kremlin and left uncurbed would only be repeated in the future.

TO that end, Zelenskyy was right in his UN speech the other day when he painted Russia as a habitual aggressor citing Moscow’s military interventions in places like Moldova, Georgia and Syria, its increased control over Belarus, its threats against the Baltic States.

And it doesn’t stop there given the Kremlin’s current toxic stirring up of old enmities in the Balkans in the hope of gaining political influence and leverage while pressurising the West.

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“The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources, into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order,” Zelenskyy said, and he’s right.

Again the merchants of whataboutery will no doubt remind that the West, UK and US especially, have in the past embarked on their own military interventions in the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan. But wrong, misguided and ultimately disastrous as these military adventures were, it’s far from accurate to compare them with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While the US and British intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan did have international repercussions they are very different from those currently experienced globally as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In his UN speech, Zelenskyy pointed out Moscow’s weaponising of everything from Ukrainian food exports contributing to shortages in Africa and elsewhere to its manipulation of oil and gas to pressure not only Ukraine but countries across the world.

Yes, other nations including the US have weaponised such commodities and resources for their own political ends in the past, but whataboutery again does not rid us of the inescapable fact that Russia is currently engaged in such malevolent and nefarious activities on a scale rarely seen in modern times.

Which takes me back to Kasparov’s concern that the US might be in the process of doing back-channel deals with Moscow.

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I’ve little doubt that concerns over triggering Russian escalation still sit heavy on the minds of US policymakers even if after more than 18 months of war the Biden administration has crossed almost every red line that could trigger that very escalation.

If such negotiations were simply driven by the impulse to save lives then that would be a good thing, but geopolitics sadly are often motivated by other much more selfish things.

For the US to negotiate with Russia – if indeed true – as Kasparov suggests, it must do so by putting Ukraine’s interests front and centre.

If the Biden administration is genuinely doing that, then why the need for back channelling and the apparent lack of transparency?

Promises from the US that they won’t negotiate with Russia – “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine” – is the right thing to do. But I have an uneasy feeling all is not quite as it appears.

To that end, I’m in agreement with Zelenskyy and Kasparov’s assessment that “shady dealings” are afoot, and if that proves to be true then shame on America and those that support them in such a cynical exercise.