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Edward Luttwak: Biden and Putin are ready to do a deal

July 18, 2023 - 3:00pm

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are ready to do a deal, according to the historian, military strategist and advisor to the US government Edward Luttwak. The comments were made in a discussion this week with UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers, during which Luttwak argued that “a shift in the overall situation” has resulted in both leaders being more willing to negotiate an end to the Ukraine war.

The author, who has worked inside and outside of the Pentagon and the US Department of State for decades, believes that channels between the CIA and the Kremlin are sufficiently open for peace talks to develop. Following the aborted Wagner Group uprising at the end of last month, CIA chief William Burns spoke directly to Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, to reassure him there was no CIA involvement in the rebellion. For Luttwak, this implies “a certain overall attitude and willingness to communicate”, while Naryshkin’s very presence in the Kremlin is further evidence that the war could be coming to an end. 

“Naryshkin is the person who, before the war started, told Putin directly, ‘Don’t do it: you have a problem with Ukraine. Talk, don’t fight. Don’t start the war,’” Luttwak claimed. “So we have somebody in the Kremlin who took that position who hasn’t been fired. He’s still there, in charge of SVR. Meanwhile, we have the American head of intelligence calling him up. And why is that? Because the United States wants this war to end.”

The strategist also pointed to Biden’s refusal to accept Ukraine into Nato as evidence that he is planning for later, war-ending negotiations. “You have a bargaining chip when you want to talk to the Russians […] When you want to find a way out of this war, you want to negotiate,” he said.

This eagerness to strike a deal goes beyond the American camp, as Putin’s recent comments on the plausibility of a Russian nuclear attack arguably reveal his own willingness to de-escalate. According to Luttwak, “the priority is to end the war. Putin said, ‘I will not use nuclear weapons at all, unless Russia faces imminent destruction.’ In other words, it is the same position as Israel has, India has, Pakistan has, the United States — which is, ‘we will strike back, we’re not going to have a first strike’”. 

Putin’s newfound interest in ending the conflict is, in Luttwak’s view, driven by paranoia over the war’s impact on inflation rates in Russia. “Putin’s reason has nothing to do with tactical operational military tanks,” he suggested. “It has to do with the fact that his director of the Russian Central Bank […] is now signalling that the war has to not build up, but scale down, because otherwise she won’t be able to control inflation.” What’s more, “inflation is a catastrophe in Russia, because people live in towns scattered over immense distances […] They can’t go and get a job somewhere else down the street: they have to travel 200 miles.”

Luttwak was clear on what a Russia-Ukraine deal would look like. The only way out of the conflict, he argued, would require the Russians to withdraw from all parts of Ukraine, other than Donetsk and Luhansk, and to organise plebiscites in these two regions. 

“The plan of holding plebiscites may be the most ridiculous plan, but there’s no other plan,” he said. “The Russians have to give up any claim or pretence that they have the right to rule all of Ukraine or other parts of it: they have just the two regions. Secondly, the Ukrainians have to give up Crimea. Crimea was always Russian — it was transferred administratively by Khrushchev.” Then, he claimed, “once Ukraine gives up Crimea and accepts these terms, Ukraine can enter Nato. That’s the big payoff. That’s why you don’t give it to them for free.”

Luttwak saw no reason why talks can’t start immediately, detecting a sense of urgency from both sides: “there are two possibilities. One is that it will happen exactly as I said. The other is that it won’t. And if it won’t, we are looking at the Seven Years War, if we’re lucky. It could be a 25-year war.”

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michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago

Sounds like the only practical solution. Let’s hope Luttwak’s intelligence is correct.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

This is all about China. Watch the video…

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

This is all about China. Watch the video…

michael harris
MH
michael harris
9 months ago

Sounds like the only practical solution. Let’s hope Luttwak’s intelligence is correct.

J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago

Luttwak is an interesting character who is undoubtedly very well connected within the global political and intelligence communities, but I’m never sure how seriously to take him. He often seems like one of those people who states his opinions as if quoting the word of God.
I hope he’s right about a real chance for a negotiated end to the Ukraine war, and I hope he’s wrong that China is nothing more than the embodiment of Xi’s will and Xi is now intent on a regenerative war.

J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago

Luttwak is an interesting character who is undoubtedly very well connected within the global political and intelligence communities, but I’m never sure how seriously to take him. He often seems like one of those people who states his opinions as if quoting the word of God.
I hope he’s right about a real chance for a negotiated end to the Ukraine war, and I hope he’s wrong that China is nothing more than the embodiment of Xi’s will and Xi is now intent on a regenerative war.

David Wildgoose
DW
David Wildgoose
9 months ago

Unfortunately, as Russia has already commented repeatedly: “The West/US is not agreement capable”.

Merkel admitted recently that the Minsk talks were not serious, they were “buying time for Ukraine”. Or in other words, simply dishonest.

The West has repeatedly ignored previous understandings such as expanding NATO (now explicitly anti-Russian) right up to the borders of Russia. That makes a mockery of “collective security”.

This tragedy was provoked and fuelled by the US. Any talks will only be to “buy time” for yet more anti-Russian actions. This is well understood in Russia where Putin is often described as being too “conciliatory“ to the West.

Donetsk and Luhansk have already been incorporated into Russia. Having a plebiscite on the matter is not a serious negotiating offer. Especially when the Quid Pro Quo is Ukraine being incorporated into NATO, which is one of the reasons this conflict began in the first place!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago

You seem unaware that NATO has always been on the borders of Russia (or the Soviet Union), given that Norway was a founder member.
Poland, which has a border with Kaliningrad, joined in 1999, the Baltic States in 2004. So this is nothing new.
Now Putin has Finland as a NATO member on his borders. Which is entirely his own fault. It’s hardly surprising that countries that have suffered from Soviet aggression want to be NATO members and disingenuous of you to suggest they shouldn’t.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
9 months ago

On the contrary, I was perfectly aware of that. However, a narrow strip of land near the Arctic Circle isn’t an ideal invasion point. Finland of course made a deal with Stalin (!) in favour of armed neutrality. They did have to give up their submarines though. The USSR honoured that deal. Finland is the one breaking it.

Russia of course is not the USSR, nor is it Soviet. It is disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise.

Neil Cheshire
Neil Cheshire
9 months ago

Finland’s deal with Stalin included ceding a large portion of Finnish Karelia in 1940 and heavy reparations after WW2.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
9 months ago
Reply to  Neil Cheshire

I know. I visited Finland a while back, and found the history fascinating. They were really forced to recognise reality and make the best deal they could. Fortunately, by having refused to attack Russia (despite German urging) they were still able to forge a peace with a monster like Stalin.

Rob N
RN
Rob N
9 months ago

Just to clarify Finland did attack Russia during WW2 but only to the extent of recovering what they lost during the previous war.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

You would have to be as deluded as Putin to think that Finland somehow compares with all of NATO.

Rob N
Rob N
9 months ago

Just to clarify Finland did attack Russia during WW2 but only to the extent of recovering what they lost during the previous war.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

You would have to be as deluded as Putin to think that Finland somehow compares with all of NATO.

David Wildgoose
DW
David Wildgoose
9 months ago
Reply to  Neil Cheshire

I know. I visited Finland a while back, and found the history fascinating. They were really forced to recognise reality and make the best deal they could. Fortunately, by having refused to attack Russia (despite German urging) they were still able to forge a peace with a monster like Stalin.

Neil Cheshire
NC
Neil Cheshire
9 months ago

Finland’s deal with Stalin included ceding a large portion of Finnish Karelia in 1940 and heavy reparations after WW2.

David Wildgoose
DW
David Wildgoose
9 months ago

On the contrary, I was perfectly aware of that. However, a narrow strip of land near the Arctic Circle isn’t an ideal invasion point. Finland of course made a deal with Stalin (!) in favour of armed neutrality. They did have to give up their submarines though. The USSR honoured that deal. Finland is the one breaking it.

Russia of course is not the USSR, nor is it Soviet. It is disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

Since NATO never agreed to not enlarge, yours is an unserious comment.
Putin is faced with economic collapse, rebellion by both war hawks and those seeking peace, and his own unwillingness to act as a genuine wartime leader. The contrast with Zelensky’s brilliant diplomacy is simply embarrassing. Lavrov is apparently senile, or unable to give advice.

Arthur G
AG
Arthur G
9 months ago

NATO never made any agreement with Russia not to expand. The best you have is second hand reports of unofficial comments made by a Secretary of State to the head of a country that no longer exists.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

And of course Gorbachev admitted that no such deal was ever made on his watch.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

And of course Gorbachev admitted that no such deal was ever made on his watch.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago

All this blame game is neither here not there. The west was never willing to accept a deal that gave Russia complete control over Ukraine, and Russia would not settle for less. There will not be an agreement that can hold unless the two sides get closer.

Luttwak’s idea would be that Russia gets international acceptance for keeping Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea (there has to be a plebiscite to launder the result, but I’d be surprised if Russia would accept anything they had a real risk of losing). In return Russia accepts that Ukraine will remain outside their control and will have reliable guarantees for its security – and NATO membership is about the only guarantee that is likely to be sufficient. It is a deal, at least – and just how much more can Russia realistically demand, anyway? We can only hope that both sides could agree on something like it.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago

You seem unaware that NATO has always been on the borders of Russia (or the Soviet Union), given that Norway was a founder member.
Poland, which has a border with Kaliningrad, joined in 1999, the Baltic States in 2004. So this is nothing new.
Now Putin has Finland as a NATO member on his borders. Which is entirely his own fault. It’s hardly surprising that countries that have suffered from Soviet aggression want to be NATO members and disingenuous of you to suggest they shouldn’t.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

Since NATO never agreed to not enlarge, yours is an unserious comment.
Putin is faced with economic collapse, rebellion by both war hawks and those seeking peace, and his own unwillingness to act as a genuine wartime leader. The contrast with Zelensky’s brilliant diplomacy is simply embarrassing. Lavrov is apparently senile, or unable to give advice.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

NATO never made any agreement with Russia not to expand. The best you have is second hand reports of unofficial comments made by a Secretary of State to the head of a country that no longer exists.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago

All this blame game is neither here not there. The west was never willing to accept a deal that gave Russia complete control over Ukraine, and Russia would not settle for less. There will not be an agreement that can hold unless the two sides get closer.

Luttwak’s idea would be that Russia gets international acceptance for keeping Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea (there has to be a plebiscite to launder the result, but I’d be surprised if Russia would accept anything they had a real risk of losing). In return Russia accepts that Ukraine will remain outside their control and will have reliable guarantees for its security – and NATO membership is about the only guarantee that is likely to be sufficient. It is a deal, at least – and just how much more can Russia realistically demand, anyway? We can only hope that both sides could agree on something like it.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
9 months ago

Unfortunately, as Russia has already commented repeatedly: “The West/US is not agreement capable”.

Merkel admitted recently that the Minsk talks were not serious, they were “buying time for Ukraine”. Or in other words, simply dishonest.

The West has repeatedly ignored previous understandings such as expanding NATO (now explicitly anti-Russian) right up to the borders of Russia. That makes a mockery of “collective security”.

This tragedy was provoked and fuelled by the US. Any talks will only be to “buy time” for yet more anti-Russian actions. This is well understood in Russia where Putin is often described as being too “conciliatory“ to the West.

Donetsk and Luhansk have already been incorporated into Russia. Having a plebiscite on the matter is not a serious negotiating offer. Especially when the Quid Pro Quo is Ukraine being incorporated into NATO, which is one of the reasons this conflict began in the first place!

Sarolta Rónai
Sarolta Rónai
9 months ago

A very interesting interview, thank you for it. It is a clear admission that peace will be negotiated by the US and Russia, rather than Ukraine and Russia, and the often-repeated slogans such as “nothing on Ukraine without Ukraine” and “Ukraine decides how long it wants to fight and we support them all the way” are pure empty rhetoric.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Sarolta Rónai

I doubt if Biden is in any position to dictate to Ukraine.
The GOP hawks would use it to diss him, while the Democratic hawks would be impossible to bring on board.
There will, of course, be secret negotiations.
But unless Biden is able to get a genuine referendum in both areas, as Luttwak suggests, there won’t be any deal.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Sarolta Rónai

I doubt if Biden is in any position to dictate to Ukraine.
The GOP hawks would use it to diss him, while the Democratic hawks would be impossible to bring on board.
There will, of course, be secret negotiations.
But unless Biden is able to get a genuine referendum in both areas, as Luttwak suggests, there won’t be any deal.

Sarolta Rónai
Sarolta Rónai
9 months ago

A very interesting interview, thank you for it. It is a clear admission that peace will be negotiated by the US and Russia, rather than Ukraine and Russia, and the often-repeated slogans such as “nothing on Ukraine without Ukraine” and “Ukraine decides how long it wants to fight and we support them all the way” are pure empty rhetoric.

Gerald Arcuri
GA
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

Remember Afghanistan.

Gerald Arcuri
GA
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

Remember Afghanistan.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago

This interview was very compelling… unlike most commenting this is about China and not Russia and we are all warned.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago

This interview was very compelling… unlike most commenting this is about China and not Russia and we are all warned.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
KS
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
9 months ago

A point bypassed in this interview is the suggestion made by Edward Luttwak that the path to negotiations and peace would include the membership of Ukraine in NATO at the end of it. Not an easy thing for Russia to accept. I am surprised Freddie Sayers didn’t comment on this.

In the end, I strongly wish Edward Luttwak proves right. As for China.. we should have known better. It’s the West’s greed that created the China of our days.

Last edited 9 months ago by Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
9 months ago

A point bypassed in this interview is the suggestion made by Edward Luttwak that the path to negotiations and peace would include the membership of Ukraine in NATO at the end of it. Not an easy thing for Russia to accept. I am surprised Freddie Sayers didn’t comment on this.

In the end, I strongly wish Edward Luttwak proves right. As for China.. we should have known better. It’s the West’s greed that created the China of our days.

Last edited 9 months ago by Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

I don’t think this is a bad deal on the surface. The trick will be how to have honest plebiscites. The plebiscites would only cover the areas Russia held prior to 2020. You’d also have to have all Russian troops out of those areas, presumably replaced by peacekeeping forces. And, you have to find a way for refugees and people who fled the Russian invasion to vote.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

It would be an open humiliation for Putin.
But may be his only way out in a few months time.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

It would be an open humiliation for Putin.
But may be his only way out in a few months time.

Arthur G
AG
Arthur G
9 months ago

I don’t think this is a bad deal on the surface. The trick will be how to have honest plebiscites. The plebiscites would only cover the areas Russia held prior to 2020. You’d also have to have all Russian troops out of those areas, presumably replaced by peacekeeping forces. And, you have to find a way for refugees and people who fled the Russian invasion to vote.

Emre S
ES
Emre S
9 months ago

I learned a word today: tyrannicide

Last edited 9 months ago by Emre S
Emre S
Emre S
9 months ago

I learned a word today: tyrannicide

Last edited 9 months ago by Emre S
martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

It must be horrible for Russians in the West (who are still loyal to Putin) to see their country slowly disintegrate before their eyes.
And to know there is absolutely noting they can do about Moscow’s demise.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

There not many Russian in the best loyal to the tyrant
Still, foe the exiled, it is horrible to know that they may never be able to return to Russia and that the brutal invasion will have a generation-long repercussions.

Elena R.
Elena R.
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

There not many Russian in the best loyal to the tyrant
Still, foe the exiled, it is horrible to know that they may never be able to return to Russia and that the brutal invasion will have a generation-long repercussions.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

It must be horrible for Russians in the West (who are still loyal to Putin) to see their country slowly disintegrate before their eyes.
And to know there is absolutely noting they can do about Moscow’s demise.

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

Comparisons of the current situation with WW1 or the Russian Front are at best naive, and at worst, fatuous.
This war now most resembles Normandy in 1944. The Allies, like Ukraine, were tied down for several months. In operations like Goodwood, they suffered significant losses in armour.
But all the while the Allies were destroying the Nazi supply lines. Eventually this enabled the capture of Paris, and the lightning advances toward the German border.
Indeed, we’ve already seen the same thing in the Kherson campaign: the Ukrainian ground forces had tough going, just like now. But all the while the Russian forces opposing them were being degraded by HIMARs, etc. Eventually Surovikin called for a retreat.
I thus cannot see any serious negotiations before the Fall, if not winter.
The attack on the Kerch bridge is only the latest example of the Ukrainian strategy.
They still have plenty of time to destroy the Russian rear, so that the “mobiks” at the front are starved of food, weapons, ammo.
And hope…

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

Comparisons of the current situation with WW1 or the Russian Front are at best naive, and at worst, fatuous.
This war now most resembles Normandy in 1944. The Allies, like Ukraine, were tied down for several months. In operations like Goodwood, they suffered significant losses in armour.
But all the while the Allies were destroying the Nazi supply lines. Eventually this enabled the capture of Paris, and the lightning advances toward the German border.
Indeed, we’ve already seen the same thing in the Kherson campaign: the Ukrainian ground forces had tough going, just like now. But all the while the Russian forces opposing them were being degraded by HIMARs, etc. Eventually Surovikin called for a retreat.
I thus cannot see any serious negotiations before the Fall, if not winter.
The attack on the Kerch bridge is only the latest example of the Ukrainian strategy.
They still have plenty of time to destroy the Russian rear, so that the “mobiks” at the front are starved of food, weapons, ammo.
And hope…

Gerald Arcuri
GA
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

A piece of advice for the gullible, corrupt and senile Mr. Biden: do not attempt to do a deal with the Devil. Putin is a liar who has you beat six ways to Sunday in that category. You can’t outwit him. And if you sell out the Ukrainian people, history will not be kind.

Gerald Arcuri
GA
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

A piece of advice for the gullible, corrupt and senile Mr. Biden: do not attempt to do a deal with the Devil. Putin is a liar who has you beat six ways to Sunday in that category. You can’t outwit him. And if you sell out the Ukrainian people, history will not be kind.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

Actually, a reasonable plan.
Putin might even have had a leg to stand on if he had held internationally-supervised referendums in both Crimea and Donbas in 2014. Instead, he was contemptuous of (and uncertain about) the real allegiances in both areas. So, like all Russian elections, it had to be a blatant sham–to emphasize the power of Putin over the individual.
–The first sticking point is that it’s doubtful many Ukrainians would accept it. So I doubt Luttwak’s contention that “peace is at hand.” Biden and the US have far less control over events than Luttwak assumes.
Things might look different in the fall, if there is still no progress on the battlefield. But if there is, negotiations may be beside the point.
–The second sticking point is that Putin has made Russians so psychotically invested in the war, that at least a minority will see this as a betrayal. I can see another coup by the hawks already in the making.
The economic problems were apparent before the war; Putin made zero preparation for a long war. That in turn meant he had zero chance of winning militarily.
So now Putin’s Russia faces 1) economic, 2) military or 3) political collapse.
Perhaps all three.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
Judy Englander
Judy Englander
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I have no idea why this comment has attracted so many down votes.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Quite a few people can’t emotionally accept that Russia is finished as a Great Power.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Quite a few people can’t emotionally accept that Russia is finished as a Great Power.

Ralph Wade
Ralph Wade
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I agree with Judy – don’t understand the down votes. I do think Luttwak lays out a potential framework for a compromise that could end the war. But how does the West handle Putin going forward? He has been accused of multiple war crimes. Do these get pardoned?

Judy Englander
JE
Judy Englander
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I have no idea why this comment has attracted so many down votes.

Ralph Wade
CR
Ralph Wade
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

I agree with Judy – don’t understand the down votes. I do think Luttwak lays out a potential framework for a compromise that could end the war. But how does the West handle Putin going forward? He has been accused of multiple war crimes. Do these get pardoned?

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

Actually, a reasonable plan.
Putin might even have had a leg to stand on if he had held internationally-supervised referendums in both Crimea and Donbas in 2014. Instead, he was contemptuous of (and uncertain about) the real allegiances in both areas. So, like all Russian elections, it had to be a blatant sham–to emphasize the power of Putin over the individual.
–The first sticking point is that it’s doubtful many Ukrainians would accept it. So I doubt Luttwak’s contention that “peace is at hand.” Biden and the US have far less control over events than Luttwak assumes.
Things might look different in the fall, if there is still no progress on the battlefield. But if there is, negotiations may be beside the point.
–The second sticking point is that Putin has made Russians so psychotically invested in the war, that at least a minority will see this as a betrayal. I can see another coup by the hawks already in the making.
The economic problems were apparent before the war; Putin made zero preparation for a long war. That in turn meant he had zero chance of winning militarily.
So now Putin’s Russia faces 1) economic, 2) military or 3) political collapse.
Perhaps all three.

Last edited 9 months ago by martin logan
martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

Things are looking a lot like the Crimean War in 1855.
Except that this Second Crimean War is becoming even more disastrous for Russia than the first.
Nikolai I and Putin:
Two brainless peas in the same very small pod…

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Thanks for not being able to offer any coherent alternative.
It is appreciated!

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago
Reply to  martin logan

Thanks for not being able to offer any coherent alternative.
It is appreciated!

martin logan
ML
martin logan
9 months ago

Things are looking a lot like the Crimean War in 1855.
Except that this Second Crimean War is becoming even more disastrous for Russia than the first.
Nikolai I and Putin:
Two brainless peas in the same very small pod…