Some Western officials believe Mr. Putin may also have his domestic audience in mind when he talks about a negotiated end to the war. Polls in Russia have shown that Russian citizens would welcome a settlement to end the conflict that has shaken their economy and produced tens of thousands of casualties.
Talk of peace could also win Mr. Putin favor among nations in the so-called global south — nations in South America, Asia and Africa, including India and South Africa, that are unaligned in the Ukraine conflict. Most of those countries have suffered from higher energy and food prices caused by the war.
Mr. Putin seemed to be exploiting Republican opposition to Mr. Biden’s funding request for Ukraine, echoing critiques made in recent weeks by some conservative members of Congress. “You have issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt — more than $33 trillion. You have nothing better to do, so you should fight in Ukraine?” Mr. Putin asked.
Alternatively, Mr. Radchenko said, Mr. Putin might be willing to make some unexpected concessions for a peace deal that leaves Russia with a foothold in eastern Ukraine, “and then use that as a basis for either further aggression against Ukraine, or as leverage to force a preferred government on Ukraine.”
Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst at the RAND Corporation, said it was possible that Mr. Putin had been bluffing all along about talks. But he said it was worth engaging the Kremlin in private to determine Mr. Putin’s actual demands.