Zelensky names caveat for talks with Moscow
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky told CNN on Wednesday that he hadn’t abandoned the idea of peace talks with Russia. Whereas Moscow maintains that it’s always open to negotiations, Zelensky’s stance on talks has shifted several times since the conflict began.
“I haven’t closed the door,” he told the American broadcaster. “I said we would be ready to talk to Russia, but with a different Russia. One that is truly ready for peace. One that is ready to recognize that they are occupiers.”
“They need to return everything,” he continued, seemingly a reference to his repeated demands that Russia relinquish the territory of Crimea, which voted to join the Russian Federation in 2014, and the predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye, which were welcomed into Russia following referendums in September.
Zelensky also restated his intention to join the NATO alliance, a move that Russia would not accept on grounds of national security.
Earlier this week, Zelensky called on world leaders “to force Russia into real peace negotiations,” before setting a list of conditions including the return of territory claimed by Kiev, and financial reparations from Moscow.
Previously, Zelensky said that the only way to achieve his territorial goals may be to defeat Russia on the battlefield. The Ukrainian leader then signed a decree in October forbidding any negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kiev pushed a different line in the early days of the conflict, sending a team of negotiators to Istanbul in March to discuss a settlement with Russia. Ukraine abruptly withdrew from these talks, allegedly thanks to the efforts of former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Future talks with Ukraine alone are unlikely to succeed, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said last month, as any agreement between the two countries would be “instantly canceled upon orders” from the West.
Moscow’s position on talks with Ukraine remains unchanged, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday. “We are still open to negotiations, we have never refused them, we are ready to conduct them,” she told reporters.
The official stance of the US is that it will support Ukraine with arms “for as long as it takes,” and that Zelensky will decide when the time is right for negotiations. However, with the cost of supporting Ukraine’s military running into the tens of billions of dollars, the US is quietly pressuring Zelensky to signal a willingness to sit down to talks, NBC News reported on Wednesday.