Zelensky says Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality in peace talks with Russia

March 28, 2022 - 15:14

Ukraine is ready to declare neutrality, abandon its drive to join NATO and vow to not develop nuclear weapons if Russia withdraws troops and Kyiv receives security guarantees, President Volodymyr Zelensky said ahead of peace talks in Turkey on Monday.

Speaking in Russian, Zelensky told a group of Russian independent journalists on Sunday that Kyiv was prepared to meet Moscow on some of its demands on the condition that the changes were put to a referendum and third parties promised to protect Ukraine.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state — we’re ready to do that. That’s the most important point... they started the war because of it,” Zelensky said, Financial Times reported.

Russia’s media censor ordered the four reporters not to publish the interview and vowed to investigate them — even though it had already blocked a site that one of them edits and shut down a TV station formerly run by another.

His remarks came as Russian forces continued to assault strategic locations over the weekend, while regrouping around the capital Kyiv and continuing a street-by-street advance on the devastated port of Mariupol.

Zelensky said Ukraine’s main goal was to end the war as quickly as possible and make Russia’s forces withdraw to the positions they held before Putin ordered the invasion on February 24.

Zelensky said he was “99.9 percent sure” the Russian president had thought Ukraine would be waiting for the invasion with “flowers and smiles” — going so far as to send troops with parade dress for a victory celebration in Kyiv apparently planned for the third or fourth day of the war.

But Zelensky said Ukraine was prepared to hold separate discussions on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the eastern Donbas border region, where more than 14,000 people have died in a slow-burning separatist conflict involving Russian proxies that broke out soon afterwards.

“I understand it’s not possible to make Russia completely leave the territory — that’ll lead to World War Three,” Zelensky said. “That’s why I’m saying this is a compromise. Go back to where this all started and then we’ll try to solve the difficult Donbas issue.”

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, claimed on Sunday that Russia was seeking to split his country in two, creating a statelet made up of territory under Russian control in the east and south. “This is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine,” Budanov said.

Delegations from Ukraine and Russia were set to meet this week in Ankara for three days of talks aimed at ending Putin’s month-long invasion. But Zelensky played down comments by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, that Ukraine and Russia were close to a deal on four points. He said peace could only be achieved through a meeting with Putin. In exchange for giving up its desire to join NATO — an aspiration reflected in Ukraine’s constitution — Kyiv wants an agreement that resembles NATO’s Article 5 in requiring the country’s protectors to come to its aid if it is attacked. Zelensky said he wanted to put the decision to a referendum, which he said would take “several months”, before embarking on constitutional changes that would require at least a year of work.

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