Germany and US ‘will pressure Zelensky to negotiate with Russia’

Ukrainian soldiers pass a bus burning after a Russian drone hit it near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region
Ukrainian soldiers pass a bus burning after a Russian drone hit it near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region - Shandyba Mykyta/ap

Germany and the US will put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia by scaling back weapons deliveries in what would be a major blow to Kyiv’s hopes of victory, German media reported on Friday.

Bild, a German tabloid, reported what it described as a “secret” German-American plan to force Ukraine’s hand on opening peace talks, citing sources in the German government.

Under the plan, Washington and Berlin would supply Ukraine with sufficient weapons and armour to hold the current front line, but not enough to retake occupied territory.

They hope to push Volodymr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, towards the negotiating table with Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader.

“Zelensky should realise that it can’t go on like this,” a German government source told Bild, referring to Ukraine’s stalled counter-offensive against Russian in the east. “He needs to, of his own free will, turn to face his nation and explain that there is a need to negotiate.”

German government sources also told Bild that the White House shared Germany’s view on the need to shift the focus from weapons deliveries to negotiations.

There was no response to the report from the White House as of Friday night. Washington has repeatedly vowed to support Ukraine’s efforts to expel Russian troops.

Bild noted that, as the largest providers of armour and defence to Ukrainian forces, a request from Germany and the US would have to be taken seriously by Mr Zelensky.

Germany’s government did not immediately respond to the Bild report, which will frustrate officials in Kyiv as they continue to strive for a full military victory over Russia, including the recapture of occupied territory.

Bild also suggested that there is a rift in the German government between Olaf Scholz, the chancellor, and Boris Pistorius, his defence minister. The latter played no part in drawing up the plan to give Ukraine “just enough [arms] not to go under” and would even support delivering powerful Taurus missiles to Ukraine, sources said.

“Since Scholz took office, the defence ministry has been under the thumb of the federal chancellor’s office. Many decisions are made there,” an anonymous defence official told Bild, in what seemed to be an attempt to distance the minister from the alleged German-American plan.

The Telegraph understands, that beyond Germany, there are concerns in Nato nations that Ukraine’s counter-offensive was “over-hyped” and that there is a desire to manage future expectations about the next stage of the war.

Mr Scholz’s rival CDU party also reacted with alarm to the plan, which it said was evidence that the chancellor had no intention of helping Ukraine to win the war, even though it is an existential conflict.

“It becomes ever more clear that the chancellor does not believe in a Ukrainian victory and does not want one at all,” said  Roderich Kiesewetter, a CDU Bundestag member.

Robert Fico, the Slovak premier, has said the Ukraine war risks lasting until 2030 if peace talks are not started. The populist Left-winger won September’s general election, pledging during the campaign to discontinue the military aid given to Ukraine by previous governments.

“This conflict is frozen, it is in a state wherein it may last until 2029 or 2030,” Mr Fico said. “It is better to lead talks for 10 years in peace or with suspended combat operations than to go to the negotiations table after 10 years without any result, only to find out that we have another 500,000 or 600,000 dead.”

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, campaigned in the elections on a promise to halt arms shipments to Ukraine.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.