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About Hersh’s “General to General” Piece

Seymour Hersh in his latest piece claims that ‘direct military-to-military negotiations are taking place between Zaluzhniy and Gerasimov

You can read Seymour Hersh’s piece on Substack, however, it’s for paying subscribers. So I guess this might be one motivation for him to write such a story. In general, I think there’s not much substance to the claim.

Hersh’s recent works, as is the one being discussed here, are relying to a great extent – if not exclusively – on ‘unnamed sources in the government’, and since we have no idea who these sources might be, we don’t have a great way to assess their credibility and the veracity of the information.
Relying on ‘unnamed US government sources’ also has its well-known dangers, as it is a great way for the government to float some ideas and narratives to see what the reaction is in the public, without committing anyone in government to it.

It’s also worthwhile to point out that talks and negotiations are not the same thing, and we thus will differentiate between the two.

Of course, we do not know if there are any direct military-to-military talks, and if there are on what level they take place and what is discussed in them.
What is publicly known, is that there are talks and negotiations taking place between the parties to the conflict regarding the release and exchange of prisoners of war. There have been many such exchanges in this 21 months-long conflict.

We also know the publicly stated original goals of the ‘special military operation’, among which originally were, if memory serves correctly, the ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine, no NATO membership for Ukraine, recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, recognition as of Crimea being part of Russia.
The goals have changed somewhat since then, specifically, the demand is now to recognise Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics AND Zaporozhye und Kherson Oblasts in addition to Crimea as integral parts of the Russian Federation. And this is a precondition for talks, and thus it is non-negotiable. The rest of the orinal goals pretty much stay as they were back in February 2022.
However, Putin directly and via his press speaker Peskov, hinted to ‘changing not-changing goals’ and ‘willingness to achieve goals through negotiations‘, indication some flexibility, but there is no indication that any of the goals – specifically the no NATO membership for Ukraine goal – was or will be dropped or changed.

We also remember that Zelenskiy has signed a decree on October 4, 2022(!) that explicitly outlaws all and any negotiations formally with Putin, but in effect with Russia. So, technically, such negotiations would not violate that decree, as long as ‘Putin officially is not involved’ in them.
However, it is unlikely that if there are indeed negotiations taking place in the way and of the form Hersh claims, it would likely be impossible for it to happen without Putin’s knowledge and approval.
Besides, in such negotiations, many subjects would be covered that are well outside the expertise, competence and jurisdiction not only of Gerasimov, but the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation as well, requiring the presence of a whole negotiating team.
As a result, I consider direct negations of the form indicated as unlikely, and I consider them being held without knowledge and approval of the Kremlin as highly unlikely. I consider it likely, though, that talks are being held on some level. It is publicly known this happens, for example, for the recovery and hand-over of the bodies of the fallen.

Hersh’s piece might well reflect current thinking in the US administration, but it starts with misconceptions and wrong assumptions, of which there were many over the last ten years. Specifically, it is assumed, that this is about ‘territory’, and thus that handing over territory to Russia will solve the problem and lead to a deal.
That is completely at odds with what the Kremlin has communicated consistently over at least the last 21 months.
With that, I consider the possibility that the Kremlin might agree to negotiations or even talks based on that premise as highly unlikely.