‘Window of peace’ opens in the Russia-Ukraine stand-off

Joe Biden and Boris Johnson agree ‘not all hope lost’ after warnings Moscow could strike tomorrow

Russian President Vladimir Putin
(Image credit: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

A last-minute diplomatic blitz has created a “crucial window” to avoid war in Ukraine, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have said.

During a call yesterday evening, the two leaders said any incursion into Ukraine’s territory would trigger a “protracted crisis” for the Kremlin, including a “significant package” of sanctions causing “far reaching damage for both Russia and the world”.

Their intervention appeared to suggest “not all hope was lost”, The Telegraph said, just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “warned his people to prepare for a Russian invasion on Wednesday”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

‘Far from exhausted’

Johnson and Biden’s call followed what Politico’s London Playbook described as a “carefully choreographed” public meeting between Vladimir Putin and his “trusty” foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

The site’s chief Brussels correspondent David M. Herszenhorn said that the event was a “de-escalation dance” staged to signal “that there would be no imminent military strike on Ukraine and that they were prepared to continue diplomatic dialogue with the West”.

The meeting “might have been better held on stage at the Bolshoi Theatre” rather than within the Kremlin, he said. While “neither Putin nor Lavrov stand to win any acting awards”, the “global audience breathed a hefty sigh of relief nonetheless”.

Lavrov told Putin of his desire to continue negotiations over “security guarantees” from the West, telling the Russian president that “our possibilities are far from exhausted. I would propose continuing and intensifying them”. Putin simply replied: “Good.”

The “unusual bit of play-acting” came as Putin “continues to rattle sabre”, said The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth. But it nonetheless was a “a rare nod towards de-escalation for Putin, who has explained little to the public about this crisis”.

Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov during their stage-managed meeting

Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
(Image credit: Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov during their stage-managed meeting)

“At stake is a potentially devastating conflict, sanctions and economic hardship”, he said, describing the impact of a war in Ukraine as “a verdict on the legacy of Putin”.

And while the “reality on the ground is not so encouraging”, talk of further negotiations from the Kremlin’s most senior officials have raised questions about “how far Putin is willing to go” to achieve his aims of stemming Nato expansionism.

Mixed signals

While Putin was discussing further negotiations with Lavrov, the US “closed its embassy in Kiev”, The Telegraph reported, “moving core staff to Lviv, almost 500km to the west”. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move came in response to a “dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president, who has so far attempted to quell suggestions of an imminent invasion, delivered what the paper described as a “bizarre video address to the nation”, warning “his people to prepare for a Russian invasion on Wednesday” and urging them “to greet it with a show of patriotism on the streets”.

Ukrainians should “hang national flags, put on blue and yellow ribbons, and show our unity to the whole world”, Zelensky said. A close aide later told reporters that the former actor and comedian was being “ironic”.

“The ambiguity over Russia’s intentions is forcing Ukraine and its Western partners to make hard decisions about what concessions to make to prevent an invasion,” The New York Times said.

Olaf Scholz will travel to Moscow for meetings with Putin today. “The Kremlin’s demonstrative public effort to ease tensions suggested that perhaps Putin was angling for a positive start with his new German counterpart,” said Politico.

Diplomatic overtures by Emmanuel Macron and Liz Truss appeared to create little room for further dialogue. But “Russia is keen to win approval from German regulators for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline”, meaning Scholz may have greater leverage during his visit to the Kremlin.

And there are some signs of progress. “Open source data” shows “aircraft and helicopters deploying near the border and tanks and artillery leaving staging areas for positions where they would be poised for an attack”, said The Guardian.

The last 24-hours has seen the “tone of the Ukraine crisis shifts”, said the New York Times. At the very least, Moscow has “signalled an openness to talk more”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.