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America's lead negotiator says U.S. diplomacy strategy is working with Russia


Russia's military forces have formed a horseshoe around Ukraine, surrounding it on three sides. The U.S. and its allies have been working to deter Russia from turning that military buildup into an invasion, in large part through diplomatic efforts. One of the Biden administration's most experienced negotiators is Wendy Sherman. She worked out deals with North Korea during the Clinton administration, then the Iran nuclear deal under Obama. And now Sherman is leading the American effort to de-escalate the tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman joins me now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WENDY SHERMAN: Thank you very much for having me.

FLORIDO: Let's start by talking about where things are. So far, the strategy has been to threaten severe sanctions. And yet there seems to be very little diplomatic progress. Putin continues to amass forces at the Ukraine border. So do you think it's time to reconsider that strategy?

SHERMAN: Well, I think that the strategy is really working very effectively to make the choice very clear to Vladimir Putin. He can choose diplomacy, dialogue and resolving this in a peaceful way, or he can go down the road of determined deterrence and consequences and conflict. I hope he has not made the decision yet.

And what we are seeing, which often happens in situations like this, is as we're getting closer and closer to his making that choice, things are in starker attention, and we've seen a flurry of additional diplomacy. Indeed, as you pointed out, there are forces of Russia surrounding Ukraine. Ukraine is no threat to Russia.

I think the international community has said in a very solid voice that President Putin should indeed endorse principles that he once agreed to, which was sovereignty, territorial integrity, that countries get to choose their own political future and their own alliances. He has long supported those. Now he appears to put those at risk.

FLORIDO: Short of invading Ukraine, Russia could do other things to destabilize the country - cyberattacks, taking down the power grid or communication systems. What have you told your counterparts in Moscow about how the U.S. would respond to that kind of aggression?

SHERMAN: I think that Russia knows that whatever they do, whether it is by a further invasion of Ukraine, by coercion or subversion, using hybrid attacks, that there will be consequences. And if any troops go across the border, they will be severe, solid, international and really bite.

I think that Putin needs to also understand that there is no question he has the largest conventional military in Europe, but as many have said to him, if indeed he goes forward with a further invasion of Ukraine, there will be body bags returning to Moscow. It will not just be death and destruction in Ukraine. It will have enormous consequences for Russia. And although Putin may be able to take an advance in the first couple of days, I have no doubt that Ukrainians will fight back, that there will be an insurgency and that this will be a very bitter and consequential conflict.

FLORIDO: Ms. Sherman, any negotiation involves concessions and sacrifices on both sides. What concessions are you and what concessions is the U.S. offering during this negotiation?

SHERMAN: Well, I think that we responded to a non-paper - to "treaties," quote-unquote, that Russia sent to us with a non-paper of all of the areas in which we could increase mutual security through reciprocal actions. So we have yet to get a response from Moscow on that non-paper. But there are many areas in which we can work together.

Just this week, there was an OSCE meeting on Tuesday, which I attended virtually, as did my counterparts from all of the nations - I think 44 nations ended up speaking - to embrace the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, countries' ability to make their own choices. OSCE has long had a process to increase security for everyone in Europe, including Russia. They have a seat at the table.

So there are many platforms, many venues for these discussions. We hope that President Putin makes the right choice for himself, for the Russian people, for the security of Europe, including Russia's security.

FLORIDO: This isn't the first time you've negotiated with Russia. What is it like negotiating with the Kremlin?

SHERMAN: Russian negotiators are very smart. They're very well-informed. They're very focused. But so are we. And what we have that is so critical is solidarity, an alliance of many nations who together are saying to President Putin that this is the direction in which he should head for the security of Europe, which includes Russian security. We hope he makes that choice.

His other choice to in fact further invade Ukraine will mean that there will be unbelievably consequential sanctions, export controls, visa restrictions, designations. A lot of harm will come to Russia. He doesn't need to have that. He can make a choice to resolve this diplomatically and peacefully. I hope he does.

FLORIDO: In 2018, you wrote about your negotiation strategy on the Iran deal and said that often in negotiations, it's necessary to have a realistic sense of one's own power. What is the U.S.' power in this negotiation?

SHERMAN: The United States, along with our allies and partners, have enormous power in the solidarity and in that alliance, as I've been describing in this conversation. I think the Russians have been surprised by that solidarity. I think they've been surprised when President Biden says standing next to the German chancellor that the next NS2 pipeline, which has been very controversial, will end if Russia further invades Ukraine. And Chancellor Scholz affirmed that Germany will be united in its response with the United States.

We've also slowed some forces and put others on prepare to deploy orders to the eastern flank to ensure that countries who feel most at risk, beyond Ukraine, of course, that we have troops there to send a message to Russia. And indeed, of course, we have slowed security assistance to Ukraine, including weapons that they can use to defend themselves. And a variety of other countries have done exactly the same.

FLORIDO: Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SHERMAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.