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How the U.S.'s goals in Ukraine compare to Europe's goals


Ukraine's president says the war will eventually end at the negotiating table. But for now, he's focused on trying to win on the battlefield. And the U.S. is backing him, arguing that this is no time to talk about diplomatic off-ramps. But France and Germany are trying to keep doors open for diplomacy. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. and Europe have shown a united front in the face of Russian aggression, but when it comes to trying to end the war, some cracks are starting to emerge. A former French ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, puts it this way.

GERARD ARAUD: The goal of everybody - of our side, of the Western side - was really trying to defend Ukraine, to prevent Ukraine from being conquered. And little by little, the - really, we are shifting to the idea that, well, after all, Ukraine may win.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say their goal now is to weaken Russia. That has some countries in Europe nervous, since Russia still could escalate this conflict. That means more death and destruction in Ukraine. Former assistant secretary of state for Europe Daniel Fried says the West needs to stand firm.

DANIEL FRIED: We have seen Vladimir Putin start wars in Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine in 2014, and then a full-fledged invasion in 2022. Why shouldn't it be the West's objective to do our best to make sure Putin is not in a position to do this yet again?

KELEMEN: Fried, now with the Atlantic Council, says the U.S. and its partners in Europe should not be in the business of proposing peace plans that would give Russia any Ukrainian land. If Ukrainians are pressured into surrendering territory, Fried says he knows what the Russians will do.

FRIED: They will go into territory they control and filter out all the elements they consider to be, quote, "Nazis," which means all the Ukrainians who actually believe in an independent Ukraine. We know this because this is what the Stalinists did in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States when they took it over after the end of World War II in 1940.

KELEMEN: Poland's president was in Ukraine over the weekend saying Kyiv has to decide its own future. Poland's prime minister recently rejected French attempts to reach out to Putin, saying, quote, "There's no point in talking to Hitler." Ambassador Araud takes a more sober approach.

ARAUD: There is a lot of passions behind it, excitement because of the courage of the Ukrainians. There are also all the sufferings of the Poles and the Baltic States behind it. There is a sort of revenge trip. And the Germans and the French don't have these feelings towards the Russians.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say they tried to talk Russia out of the invasion to begin with, and Moscow shows no sign it's interested in real diplomacy now. And the Ukrainians want to fight on, says Cynthia Cook of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CYNTHIA COOK: The extent of the atrocities that Russia has enacted upon the nation - murdering civilians, including children, you know, rape and sexual violence, the wholesale destruction of infrastructure, taking civilians and putting them into what they term filtration camps and sending them east - I think all of that has served to stiffen Ukraine's backbone.

KELEMEN: She says France and Germany are providing more weapons to Ukraine now to give them a chance to defend their territory. Fried of the Atlantic Council echoes that, downplaying the debate about French or German appeasement.

FRIED: Right now, there's no point in the U.S. and France debating in the abstract - the abstract value of diplomacy versus just helping the Ukrainians win because there is no diplomacy.

KELEMEN: And the U.S. remains focused on supplying more weapons to Ukraine to fight on. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.