Is Putin Prepared To Compromise?

The West has repeatedly dismissed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offers to negotiate without even exploring them. They have repeated the claim that Putin is not serious about negotiating and that he offers only ultimatums without being willing to compromise. But former Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleksandr Chalyi, a former member of Ukraine’s negotiating team in Istanbul, has said that Putin “demonstrated a genuine effort to find a realistic compromise and achieve peace.” There have been recent suggestions that Putin remains willing to compromise, including a willingness to compromise on territory to achieve Russia’s larger goals.

Putin has, from the start, insisted that the war’s aims are not for territory but for security arrangements, including, especially, written guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO. Right up until the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin remained committed to the Minsk II Accords and was still urging France and Germany to pressure Ukraine to implement them. Those accords would have granted Donbass greater autonomy while restoring it to Ukraine. After the invasion, Putin continued to insist that “this conflict is not about territory… [it] is about the principles underlying the new international order.”

Although in the first days of the war, Russian forces reached the suburbs of Kiev, Putin has repeatedly denied he intended to conquer Ukraine and acquire territory. This claim that is consistent not only with Russia’s stated war goals, but with the limited number of troops Russia has committed to Ukraine. On June 14, this year, Putin said once again that, though Russian troops in 2022 “approached Kyiv… there was no political decision to storm the three-million city.”

Rather, he said, “it was nothing more than an operation to force the Ukrainian regime to peace. The troops were there to push the Ukrainian side to negotiations.” And it worked. Within weeks in Istanbul, Ukraine had agreed to abandon its NATO ambitions, Russia had withdrawn its troops from around Kiev, and a peace appeared possible before the West intervened and discouraged it.

Though Russian officials have insisted that negotiations that pick up from where the Istanbul negotiations left off must accept the new territorial realities, recent statements made by Putin have suggested that he may still be willing to compromise. His recent peace proposal demanded that “Ukrainian troops must be completely withdrawn from” the annexed territories. But it did not demand that Ukraine legally recognize Russia’s annexation of those territories. That allows Ukraine to acknowledge the reality and move toward peace without formally agreeing to the transfer of territory.

On July 3, Daily Mail reported on concessions being offered by Putin that contradict all past statements by Russian officials. They claim that their sources come from both Ukrainian and Russian journalists. I have not seen the offer reported elsewhere and have not been able to verify the report, which seems incredible.

According to the Daily Mail, Russian interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev actually flew to the U.S. to deliver Russia’s new peace proposal. Under the terms of the new agreement, Ukraine would forgo NATO membership, but not membership in the European Union, and agree to limits on the size of its armed forces. As with the wording of Putin’s recent public peace proposal, Ukraine must withdraw all its forces from Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass, but, this time, Russia says that they “would discuss the possible transfer of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to the control of Ukraine.”

This concession is contrary to all Russian statements since the beginning of the war but closer to the spirit of the Minsk Accords. Most remarkably, the Daily Mail reports that Putin has suggested that Crimea become a “specially demilitarised administrative territory with dual subordination to Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” Ukraine would make a legally binding guarantee not to block the supply of water to Crimea. There would also be 62-mile demilitarised zone along the Dnipro River, and sanctions against Russia would be ended.

It is not known if the Daily Mail report is reliable, but, if it is, it is an extraordinary continuation of the evolution of Putin’s possible compromises on territory to secure a closed door on NATO membership for Ukraine.

In another unexpected sign of potential compromise, although Ukraine has rejected the recent Russian peace proposal and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has yet to rescind his decree against negotiating with Putin, Zelensky’s chief of staff,  Andriy Yermak, subsequently said that, at the next peace summit based on Zelensky’s peace plan, “We think it will be possible to invite representative of Russia.”

Since Russia is unlikely to base a diplomatic settlement on Zelensky’s plan, which demands that Russia withdraw its troops from all Ukrainian territory, the format may not lead to an agreement. But the floating of the possibility of talking to Russia, is a sign of hope. Zelensky has also recently alluded to the possibility of indirect talks with Russia through intermediaries.

The two sides are still very far apart in their objectives. But there may be some suggestion from Putin that Russia might be open to some sort of compromise on territory to achieve its key goal of closing NATO’s door to Ukraine. And, though Zelensky is only open to the Ukrainian peace place, which is a nonstarter for Russia, there is some suggestion that the Ukrainian president may be subtly modifying his tone on negotiations.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at