Zelensky says Ukraine prepared to debate neutrality in peace talks with Russia

Ukraine is able to declare neutrality, abandon its drive to hitch 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 advised a gaggle of Russian impartial journalists on Sunday that Kyiv was ready to fulfill Moscow on a few of its calls for given that the modifications had been put to a referendum and third events promised to guard Ukraine.

“Safety ensures and neutrality, the non-nuclear standing of our state — we’re prepared to try this. That’s an important level [ . . . ] they began the struggle due to it,” Zelensky mentioned.

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

Zelensky mentioned Ukraine’s major purpose was to finish the struggle as rapidly as potential 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 certain” 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 struggle.

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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 folks have died in a slow-burning separatist battle involving Russian proxies that broke out quickly afterwards.

“I perceive it’s not potential to make Russia fully depart the territory — that’ll result in world struggle three,” Zelensky mentioned. “That’s why I’m saying this can be a compromise. Return to the place this all began after which we’ll attempt to resolve the troublesome Donbas situation.”

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 had been near a deal on 4 factors. He mentioned peace might solely be achieved by way of a gathering with Putin.

“So we meet, we make a deal, and that’s sufficient — we signal a deal, stamp it, or signal it in blood. That’s sufficient to begin the troop withdrawal course of. The troops have to be withdrawn, everybody indicators the ensures, and that’s it,” Zelensky mentioned.

In alternate for giving up its want to hitch 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 support whether it is attacked.

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Zelensky mentioned he needed to place the choice to a referendum, which he mentioned would take “a number of months”, earlier than embarking on constitutional modifications that might require no less than a yr of labor.

“The guarantors received’t signal something if now we have troops [on our territory]. That’s why I believe we might end the struggle rapidly. It’s simply Putin and his entourage who’re dragging it out,” Zelensky mentioned. “Who’s going to speak about something if troops are nonetheless there? Who’s going to signal something? Nothing will occur, it’s unattainable.”

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

Ukraine and its western backers worry 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 gear, tactical and communications gear, medical provides and armoured automobiles for Ukraine’s border guard service and its nationwide police drive.

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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 gas 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 struggle’s worst clashes have erupted and which has been nearly destroyed.

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

“These Russian-speaking cities are those which were wiped from the face of the earth. And these households,” Zelensky mentioned.

He mentioned 90 per cent of the buildings in Mariupol, which beforehand had a inhabitants of 400,000, had been destroyed, “however they had been no less than multistorey, so you’ll be able to think about what was there”. Smaller cities alternatively had been fully destroyed.

“I don’t know who else the Russian military ever handled 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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