Amid domestic talks over the war in Ukraine, America’s top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, has led a strong push for a diplomatic solution in recent weeks as he struggles toward a winter lull.
But Milley’s position is not widely supported by US President Joe Biden’s national security team, including Sec. of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, neither of whom believe it is time to seriously push talks on Ukraine, according to two administration officials familiar with the discussion.
The result is a growing debate within the administration over whether Ukraine’s recent gains on the battlefield should prompt a renewed effort to seek some kind of negotiated end to the fighting, officials said.
Milley’s push for peace has spread to the public in recent days, just as Ukraine reclaims the city of Kherson. In remarks at the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday, Milley praised the Ukrainian military for fighting Russia to a stalemate, but said an outright military victory is out of reach.
“When there is an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment,” Milley said.
The comments did not surprise administration officials, given Milley’s internal defense of the position, but also raised concerns among some that the administration appeared divided in the eyes of the Kremlin.
While some Biden officials are more open to exploring what diplomacy might look like, sources tell CNN that most top diplomatic and national security officials are wary of giving Russian President Vladimir Putin any leverage at the negotiating table and they believe that the Ukrainians should determine when to hold talks, not the US.
“This is up to the Ukrainians. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” President Biden said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about the potential for talks.
In internal deliberations, officials say Milley has tried to make it clear that he is not urging a Ukrainian capitulation, but that he believes now is the optimal time to move toward an end to the war before it drags into the spring or beyond, the that leads to more death and destruction without changing the front line, officials say.
Milley’s position comes as the U.S. military has deepened stockpiles of U.S. weapons to support the Ukrainians and is currently scouring the world for supplies to support Ukraine heading into winter, such as heaters and generators, raising concerns about how much how long can this war last. sustained, officials said.