Ukraine ready to discuss neutral status to reach peace deal with Russia – POLITICO

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is open to his country’s neutral status and a “compromise” in the contested Donbass region as part of peace talks with Russia, he said in an interview with several Russian media outlets on Sunday.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to do it,” Zelenskyi told Russian news organizations Meduza, Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta and TV Rain, speaking in Russian throughout the interview.

For Ukraine, neutrality would mean abandoning its long-held ambitions to join NATO and making it a buffer state between Russia and the western military alliance. For years, Moscow has been annoyed by NATO’s eastward expansion into the former Soviet Union.

Zelenskyy placed stringent conditions on these potential concessions: Russian troops would have to withdraw to positions before February 24, and any peace deal would be put before the Ukrainian people in a referendum that could take up to a year to organize. The referendum is a strict condition, Zelenskyy said, arguing that Ukrainians must have a say in any potential territorial changes that would require constitutional revision.

In the interview, Zelenskyy went on to question the Russian negotiators’ understanding of the Ukrainian system, saying that they “are not up to date […] to put it mildly.”

The Ukrainian president ruled out trying to recapture all Russian-held territories by force, warning that it could lead to World War III. He expressed his willingness to seek a “compromise” over Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, parts of which Russian forces have held since 2014.

While Ukraine’s neutrality is a key Moscow demand, Zelenskyy has refused to back down on other issues, such as the country’s demilitarization. Zelenskyi also urged the West to provide more weapons and tanks to repel invading Russian forces.

However, Zelenskyy made it clear in another Video posted overnight that a peace pact is not yet in sight and stressed “how far we are from the Russian Federation”. In remarks that conflicted with his statements to Russian journalists, he also reiterated that the priorities in the negotiations were “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Russia’s communications watchdog banned media organizations from publishing her interview, which Zelenskyy said was proof Moscow is destroying freedom of expression in the country.

In a separate interview with the economistZelenskyy said that some of his “partners” are using Ukraine “as a shield,” and explained how he sees the Western allies’ different stances on the war with two different main strands.

On the one hand, Zelenskyy said, there are those who “do not mind a long war because it would mean exhausting Russia,” even “if it means Ukraine’s downfall and at the cost of Ukrainian lives.” On the other hand, other countries want the war to end quickly, “because Russia’s market is big… [and] their economies are suffering from the war,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy also slammed French President Emmanuel Macron for being “afraid of Russia” and for not providing military support to Ukraine, while praising British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “a leader who helps more”.

Zelenskyy noted that Germany’s approach “tries to be balanced,” although he primarily focused on “how the situation affects their own country.” He said Germany was making “a mistake” and criticized the legacy of Germany’s ambiguous relationship with Russia.

The Ukrainian president’s comments come as representatives of Russia and Ukraine begin three days of face-to-face talks in Turkey on Monday.

Meanwhile, cities across Ukraine continue to come under heavy shelling while the humanitarian situation remains unchanged worsen in Mariupol and Volnovakha.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting. Ukraine ready to discuss neutral status to reach peace deal with Russia - POLITICO

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