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

Ukraine is able to declare neutrality, abandon its drive to affix Nato and vow to not develop nuclear weapons if Russia withdraws troops and Kyiv receives safety ensures, President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned on the eve of a brand new spherical of peace talks in Turkey.

Talking in Russian, Zelensky instructed a bunch of Russian impartial journalists on Sunday that Kyiv was ready to fulfill Moscow on a few of its calls for given that the adjustments have been put to a referendum and third events promised to guard 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 mentioned.

Russia’s media censor ordered the 4 reporters to not publish the interview and vowed to research them — although it had already blocked a web site that certainly one of them edits and shut down a TV station previously run by one other.

Zelensky mentioned Ukraine’s principal purpose was to finish the battle as shortly as attainable and make Russia’s forces withdraw to their positions earlier than Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24.

He mentioned he was “99.9 per cent sure” the Russian president had thought Ukraine can be ready for the invasion with “flowers and smiles” — going as far as to ship troops with parade gown for a victory celebration in Kyiv apparently deliberate for the third or fourth day of the battle.

However Zelensky mentioned Ukraine was ready to carry separate discussions on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the japanese Donbas border area, the place greater than 14,000 individuals have died in a slow-burning separatist battle involving Russian proxies that broke out quickly afterwards.

“I understand it’s not possible to make Russia completely leave the territory — that’ll lead to world war three,” Zelensky mentioned. “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.”

Delegations from Ukraine and Russia are set to fulfill on Monday in Ankara for 3 days of talks geared toward ending Putin’s month-long invasion.

However Zelensky performed down feedback by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, that Ukraine and Russia have been near a deal on 4 factors. He mentioned peace may solely be achieved via a gathering with Putin.

“So we meet, we make a deal, and that’s enough — we sign a deal, stamp it, or sign it in blood. That’s enough to start the troop withdrawal process. The troops must be withdrawn, everyone signs the guarantees, and that’s it,” Zelensky mentioned.

In alternate for giving up its want to affix Nato — an aspiration mirrored in Ukraine’s structure — Kyiv needs the brand new agreements to be extra like Nato’s Article 5 in requiring the nation’s protectors to return to its assist whether it is attacked.

Zelensky mentioned he needed to place the choice to a referendum, which he mentioned would take “several months”, earlier than embarking on constitutional adjustments that will require at the very least a yr of labor.

“The guarantors won’t sign anything if we have troops [on our territory]. That’s why I think we could finish the war quickly. It’s just Putin and his entourage who are dragging it out,” Zelensky mentioned. “Who’s going to talk about anything if troops are still there? Who’s going to sign anything? Nothing will happen, it’s impossible.”

He added that Ukraine refused to debate two different Russian calls for on the talks: “denazification” and “demilitarisation”. These have been “completely incomprehensible things”, he mentioned.

Ukraine and its western backers concern Russia could also be utilizing the talks as a smokescreen whereas it regroups its forces for a brand new offensive and builds up new battle teams close to the border.

On Sunday, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken mentioned Washington will present an additional $100mn in civilian safety help to Ukraine to assist civil regulation enforcement and shield authorities infrastructure.

In a press release, Blinken mentioned the cash would assist proceed to safe private safety tools, tactical and communications tools, medical provides and armoured automobiles for Ukraine’s border guard service and its nationwide police drive.

Fierce preventing additionally continued to rage within the east and north, with Ukraine claiming it had clawed again territory alongside provide routes close to Kyiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.

Russia stepped up its missile assaults on gasoline and meals depots for a 3rd day. Ukraine reported strikes in Lutsk, Zhytomyr and Rivne within the west and Kharkiv within the east in addition to “carpet bombing” on Mariupol, the south-eastern port metropolis the place the battle’s worst clashes have erupted and which has been virtually destroyed.

Zelensky mentioned Ukraine was ready to think about giving the Russian language protected minority standing if it obtained analogous ensures from Moscow on Ukrainian. However he mentioned Putin had executed “irreparable damage” to the Russian language in Ukraine via brutal assaults on primarily Russian-speaking cities reminiscent of Mariupol.

“These Russian-speaking cities are the ones that have been wiped from the face of the earth. And these families,” Zelensky mentioned.

He mentioned 90 per cent of the buildings in Mariupol, which beforehand had a inhabitants of 400,000, had been destroyed, “but they were at least multistorey, so you can imagine what was there”. Smaller cities alternatively had been utterly destroyed.

“I don’t know who else the Russian army ever treated like this,” the president mentioned, including that the destruction was worse than throughout Moscow’s two campaigns in Chechnya within the Nineties and 2000s.

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