Trump military aides say they’ve given him detailed plan to pressure Ukraine into peace talks with Putin

Proposal would see US use leverage to force Kyiv and Moscow to negotiate

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 25 June 2024 11:25
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Related: Biden announces new $225m aid package for Ukraine

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Donald Trump has been presented with a plan to bring an end to the war in Ukraine by two key advisers that would require Kyiv to sit down for peace talks with Russia or receive no further US weapons.

The strategy, which would only be actionable in the event that the Republican presidential contender beats Joe Biden to the White House in November, would conversely see Moscow threatened with increased American support for Ukraine if it refused to participate in the negotiations.

The proposition was devised by retired lieutenant general Keith Kellogg and national security expert Fred Fleitz, who both served as chiefs of staff in Trump’s National Security Council during his 2017-2021 presidency, and divulged in an interview with Reuters.

“We tell the Ukrainians, ‘You’ve got to come to the table, and if you don’t come to the table, support from the United States will dry up,’” Kellogg told the news agency.

Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin shake hands at their summit in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 2018
Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin shake hands at their summit in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 2018 (Chris McGrath/Getty)

“And you tell Putin, ‘He’s got to come to the table and if you don’t come to the table, then we’ll give Ukrainians everything they need to kill you in the field.’”

Under Kellogg and Fleitz’s plan, a ceasefire would be declared along current battle lines in order to allow the talks to progress, with the Kremlin promised that Ukraine’s application to join Nato would be postponed as a further enticement.

Trump has repeatedly boasted at his campaign rallies and in interviews that Russian president Vladimir Putin would never have been emboldened to invade the country’s western neighbour if he had remained in the Oval Office and insisted he can swiftly resolve the conflict, without going into specifics.

Fleitz told Reuters that Trump had reacted positively to their idea, before adding: “I’m not claiming he agreed with it or agreed with every word of it, but we were pleased to get the feedback we did.”

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung meanwhile responded by issuing a reminder that people should only pay heed to official statements by the candidate himself or the campaign.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment but President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously insisted Kyiv would not surrender a square inch of territory to Russia, having bravely fought the invader to a stalemate after 26 months of brutal fighting with the help of arms and funding supplied by its allies.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The value of any plan lies in the nuances and in taking into account the real state of affairs on the ground.

“President Putin has repeatedly said that Russia has been and remains open to negotiations, taking into account the real state of affairs on the ground.”

US president Joe Biden meets with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris, on June 7 2024
US president Joe Biden meets with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris, on June 7 2024 (Evan Vucci/AP)

The proposal presented to Trump would mark a huge shift in American policy, given Biden’s emphatic support for Ukraine and the recent 10-year bilateral security agreement he forged with Zelensky.

It would also face opposition from America’s European allies and from within Trump’s own Republican Party, with many of the GOP likely to remain reluctant to invest further in Ukraine should Russia decline to play ball, the US already having paid out $70bn since February 2022.

However, it might equally find support among the party’s hard-right, where the likes of outspoken Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene have repeatedly bemoaned the expense and warned against involvement in any further “forever wars” overseas in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Both Kellogg and Fleitz hold leadership positions within the conservative think-tank the America First Policy Institute, which published a publically-available research paper in April in which the basic framework of its arguments are outlined.

The paper insists the Biden administration’s “risk-averse pattern in the armament of Ukraine coupled with a failure in diplomacy with Russia” has helped to turn the fight into a “war of attrition” with no end in sight.

For its part, the Biden campaign has said Trump has no interest in Ukraine and that his re-election would be a dire development.

“Donald Trump heaps praise on Vladimir Putin every chance he gets, and he’s made clear he won’t stand against Putin or stand up for democracy,” campaign spokesperson James Singer said.

Trump has certainly expressed his admiration for Putin in the past and notoriously sided with him over his own intelligence services at the Helsinki summit of July 2018 when the Russian denied meddling in the US election two years earlier.

The candidate also has a difficult personal history with Zelensky, having attempted to extort a political favour from him in July 2019 and withhold $400m in congressionally-approved military funding if it was not granted, a quid quo pro that provided the basis for his first impeachment.

However, Trump might be tempted to try to play the peacekeeper and is far from a military hawk, promising during an interview with the All-In podcast last week never to put American troops on the ground in Ukraine.

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