Samuel Charap, an influential proponent of Kyiv-Moscow negotiations, who has long been skeptical of Ukraine’s ability to win the war, evidently has an in with the White House.
by Jason Jay Smart and Hether Beck
January 10, 2024
Kyiv Post has discovered that Samuel Charap, one of the most prominent Ukraine skeptics among American foreign policy analysts, has been a regular visitor to the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) during the past three years of the Biden Administration. Charap has been a stalwart advocate of Kyiv negotiating with Moscow since the early days of Russia’s invasion in 2014 and a frequent voice in media and international political circles questioning the logic of arming Ukraine.
The NSC, which operates from the West Wing of the White House, is headed by Jake Sullivan, who is Biden’s point man on Ukraine, under whom Charap earlier worked at the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff before becoming a political scientist at the largely US government-financed Rand Corporation.
In the publicly available White House visitor log, one of Charap’s most recent visits, on July 17, 2023, was listed as an appointment with Jonathan Finer, Deputy National Security Advisor under Sullivan.
White House visitor log indicates that Charap has been a frequent visitor to the Biden Administration.
Here are some examples of his most recent writings, especially since Feb. 24, 2022. They clearly demonstrate an ongoing opposition to arming Ukraine and call instead for negotiations with Russia:
As hundreds of thousands of Russian troops amassed along the Ukrainian border in January 2022, Samuel Charap published an article for Foreign Policy titled, “The West’s Weapons Won’t Make Any Difference to Ukraine,” arguing that “US military equipment wouldn’t realistically help Ukrainians – or intimidate Putin,” which closely echoed previous statements from Charap.
Back in 2014, half-a-year after Russia began its illegal invasion and occupation of Crimea and the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine, Charap wrote a piece for Foreign Policy called “Why Ukraine Must Bargain for Peace With Russia: “The ‘let’s make a deal’ moment has arrived for Kiev [sic] and Moscow. But by pushing a hard-line agenda against Putin, the United States and Europe are only making things worse for Ukraine,” he said, contending that “Ukraine needs to make a deal with Russia if it wants to survive this crisis.”
In 2016, after the initial invasion had sunk in, Charap and Jeremy Shapiro authored “How to Avoid a New Cold War” for the Brookings Institute, in which they seemingly blame the West for Putin’s illegal actions: “The response thus far has seemed more focused on punishing Russia and its leaders for their moral transgressions than on addressing the problems in Western-Russian relations that led to this impasse.”
In the summer of 2023, as President Zelensky was thanking Denmark for committing to send F-16s to Ukraine, Charap published another opinion piece, “An Unwinnable War: Washington Needs an Endgame in Ukraine” criticizing the West for being more focused on providing military aid and economic assistance than a diplomatic resolution.
In “Should Ukraine Negotiate with Russia,” published by Foreign Affairs in July 2023, Charap argued, “But in international politics, one does not get to choose one’s interlocutors. And there is no plausible path to ending the war that does not entail engaging Moscow. So eventually, Washington, Kyiv, Berlin, and others will have to try. This would not be the first time the United States talked to a nefarious regime with a history of deceit in order to stop a war.”
The New Yorker magazine’s The Case for Negotiating with Russia in August 2023 quotes Charap as saying “It’s not necessarily that I think Ukraine needs to make concessions,” but “I don’t see the alternative to that eventually happening.” Meanwhile, in the fall of 2023, as US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley was touting that Ukraine had successfully liberated over 54 percent of Russian-occupied Ukraine and they continue to retain the strategic initiative.
Finally, Charap has been a vocal supporter of a Korean War-type armistice, where there is no declared end or victory. It should be noted, however, that an ongoing conflict would preclude Ukraine from qualification to become a NATO member, a central objective of President Zelensky’s government.
Given the controversial nature of Charap’s commentary over the years, there is plenty of reason for concern, as it becomes known that the White House visitor log shows him as visiting staff a total of three times in 2021, and nine in 2022. In 2023, he visited the White House at least eight times, however, not all 2023 records have yet been published by the Federal Government.
Most meetings were small. However, one meeting in August 2022 had 86 attendees recorded on the government roster, including President Biden.
What changes in US foreign policy Charap influenced is not fully known. However, as murmurs abound that the US has abandoned the “for as long as it takes” promise, potentially in an attempt to coerce Kyiv into a negotiating posture, the role that staunchly pro-negotiation Charap has played will come further under the microscope.
When Kyiv Post contacted Samuel Charap’s office with a set of questions, he largely brushed us off with the exception of a few responses like these:
Kyiv Post: Given past successes and failures for Putin with international agreements, why do you think an agreement with Ukraine now would be effective? And what would you see as an effective mechanism for punishing breach of contract?
Charap: It is not possible to assess the effectiveness of a hypothetical agreement before negotiations have even begun. There are a range of mechanisms that have been used to address non-compliance with international agreements. The snapback clauses in the JCPOA are one example.
Kyiv Post: For the US today, do you prioritize encouraging and supporting negotiations over supplying arms to Ukraine? How have your thoughts on this question changed since Feb 2022? Since 2014?
Charap: Please see [reference to a piece in Foreign Affairs], which says, in part: “Starting talks does not require stopping the fight. Conducting negotiations is not the opposite of applying coercive pressure. In fact, negotiations are the means by which states can turn that pressure into leverage to accomplish their goals. As Thomas Schelling wrote in his classic ‘Arms and Influence’: ‘The power to hurt is bargaining power. To exploit it is diplomacy – vicious diplomacy, but diplomacy.’ Talks are an instrument for a warring state to further the same objectives it seeks on the battlefield. Historically, they have often taken place during periods of intense fighting. Nowhere in my article do I suggest that Ukraine would have to stop fighting – or that the West would have to cease supporting that fight – in order to start talks.”
Kyiv Post asked Tomasz Nadrowski, host of the “Tyranny Today” podcast to comment on Charap’s responses. “The problem with both of Charap’s responses here is that they make too many general assumptions about geopolitical negotiations in general, and certainly too many assumptions when it comes to the triangle of relationships between the US, Ukraine and Russia,” he said.
The Polish-born US foreign affairs specialist elaborated: “First of all, Charap assumes that Putin is willing to negotiate in good faith. Second, he assumes that Ukrainians want to negotiate. He also makes assumptions about Russia’s willingness to commit to a set of achievable goals for negotiations; this is a problem given that Russia’s publicly stated goals for the conflict have changed over and over again from the removal of neo-nazism to fighting Western domination to expansionist plans to roll farther into Eastern Europe. Ukraine, on the other hand, had been steadfast in stating its goals with President Zelensky’s well-documented 10-point peace plan.”
Nadrowski, concludes: “Finally, I will say that it’s naive, given all I said above, to think that Ukraine and Russia should or even could participate in serious formal negotiations today. But there are certainly back-channel means for the two nations to hold discussions that could set the stage for future negotiations. In fact, I would be stunned if those back-channel conversations aren’t going on as I write this. On the other hand, if those back-channel conversations are happening, these views expressed by Mr. Charap on Ukraine/Russia negotiations, particularly when also stated in prestigious publications like Foreign Affairs and the New Yorker, might actually do a lot more harm than good.”
The White House could not be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by Gregg Stebben.
Jason Jay Smart, Ph.D., is a political adviser who has lived and worked in Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Latin America. Due to his work with the democratic opposition to Pres. Vladimir Putin, Smart was persona non grata, for life, by Russia in 2010.