Lviv: Ukraine is prepared to declare its neutrality and consider a compromise on contested areas in the country’s east, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday. His comments came ahead of another round of talks set for Tuesday on stopping the fighting. But Volodymyr Zelenskyy said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader can end the war.
While hinting at possible concessions, Zelenskyy also stressed that Ukraine’s priority is ensuring its sovereignty and its ‘territorial integrity’ He said Russia will not be allowed to carved up the country, something Ukraine and the West say could now be Moscow’s goal.
Russia has long demanded that Ukraine drop any hope of joining the Western NATO alliance, which Moscow sees as a threat.
Zelenskyy has also repeatedly stressed that Ukraine needs security guarantees of its own as part of any deal. “Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state — we are ready to go for it,” Zelenskyy said in an interview Sunday with independent Russian media outlets.
The Ukrainian leader has suggested as much before, but rarely so forcefully, and the latest remarks could create momentum for the talks scheduled to take place in Istanbul.
“We must come to an agreement with the president of the Russian Federation, and in order to reach an agreement, he needs to get out of there on his own feet … And come to meet me,” Zelenskyy said in the interview, which Russia barred its media from publishing.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.
“The meeting is necessary once we have clarity regarding solutions on all key issues,” Lavrov said in an interview with Serbian media. He accused Ukraine of only wanting to ‘imitate talks’, and said Russia needs concrete results.
In an overnight video address to his nation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine is seeking peace ‘without delay’.
While saying ‘Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt’, Zelenskyy also suggested compromise might be possible over the Donbas, the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern region of Ukraine where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting a separatist war for the past eight years. With its forces bogged down elsewhere, Russia said days ago that its focus is now on securing the Donbas.
Zelenskyy also said that a peace agreement would have to be put to a referendum of Ukrainian voters. However, Russian troops would have to withdraw from the country first.
“A referendum is impossible in the presence of troops. No one will consider the referendum results legitimate if there are foreign troops on the country’s territory,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy said that a possible compromise could see Russia pull back its troops to areas where they had been before the invasion started February 24.
“I realize that it’s impossible to force Russia to fully leave the territory. It could lead to World War III. I understand completely. I’m fully aware of it,” Zelenskyy said. “That is why I’m saying, yes, this is a compromise: Go back to where it all started and then we’ll try to resolve the issue of Donbas, the complex issue of Donbas,” the Ukrainian president added.
It was not clear how a compromise on the Donbas would square with maintaining Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and Russia and Ukraine remain far apart on other issues.
Meanwhile in other developments, the mayor of Irpin, a northwestern suburb of Kyiv that has been the site some of the heaviest fighting in the capital area, said the city has been ‘liberated’ from Russian troops. Irpin gained wide attention after photos circulated of a mother and her two children who were killed by shelling as they tried to flee, their bodies lying on the pavement with luggage and a pet carrier nearby.
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