Three days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the details are beginning to emerge. According to people who were privy to details about the meeting, the current situation is that Russia has offered a "final" version of its offer to end the crisis, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky needs to accept or decline.
The proposal was deemed "difficult" but not "impossible," the sources said. It is worse than what Zelensky would have gotten before the invasion but "the gaps between the sides are not great."
Putin ordered his forces to halt – and the command for a ceasefire to be enacted was given – in order to wait for Zelensky's decision, the sources said.
If Ukraine's president rejects the proposal, French President Emmanuel Macron's assumption that "the worst is before us" is prone to happen. In that scenario, Putin will order his army to put the pedal to the metal and change the face of Ukraine.
Zelensky is torn, the sources said. On the one hand, he is enjoying immense popularity and has become the perfect Che Guevara. On the other hand, he knows full well what the Argentinian revolutionary and guerrilla leader's end was.
Zelensky can fortify Ukraine's independence but will have to pay a heavy price, the sources said. Assumptions are that he will be forced to give up the contested Donbas region, officially recognize the pro-Russian dissidents in Ukraine, pledge that Ukraine will not join NATO, shrink his army and declare neutrality. If he declines the proposal, the outcome may be terrible: thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Ukrainians will die and there is a high probability that his country will completely lose its independence.
According to the sources knowledgeable about the content of the talks, Bennett's trip to Moscow was not meant to mediate between the sides and no arbitration proposal was officially offered. Rather, the trip was meant to get a sense of what Putin's position was, what his state of mind was and what his redlines were, and report them to the West.
The real negotiations, according to the sources, are happening directly between Russia and Ukraine and are much more serious than what the West has been saying. Kyiv has not shared with the West what has been going on in the negotiations since they do not want to damper the worldwide sense of emergency.
In reality, however, the Ukrainians know full well what Putin's demands are and they know they will have to make a dramatic decision in the coming days.
No one will pressure the Ukrainians, the sources said; the decision is Zelensky's.
One thing is certain, however: Putin is determined, and the growing complications since the invasion will not deter him. On the contrary, he cannot turn back, so the more the war becomes difficult and casualties mount, the more he will be pressured to show real achievements.
The impression is that, despite the fact that the predictions of a quick victory over the Ukrainian army have been proven false, Putin is as determined as ever.