Ukraine’s Zelensky Sets Conditions for ‘Genuine’ Peace Talks With Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ready for “real peace talks” with Russia after pressure from Western backers to show a willingness to negotiate amid concerns over the rising costs of the eight-month war.

Mr. Zelensky said Ukraine’s terms for the talks included returning Ukraine’s control over its territory, reparations to Kyiv for Moscow’s aggression, and bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.

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In a late-night message on Monday, he said efforts should be focused on “deterring Russian aggression, restoring our territorial integrity and forcing Russia into real peace talks.”

There is little prospect of imminent peace talks, as both sides still believe they can win.

Ukraine has made significant gains on the battlefield in recent months and is striving for more. Russia believes it can outdo the West by undermining Western support for Kyiv, and Western capitals say the Kremlin is escalating the war rather than seeking openings for talks.

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U.S. and European officials said it was up to Ukraine to determine the terms of any acceptable deal.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, demanded the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from his country.


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Sergey Dolzhenko / EPA / Shutterstock

But Western officials have sought to broaden their message in recent weeks by repeatedly pledging military and economic support to begin talks on a peaceful outcome to the war, responding to pressures at home and to calls in many parts of the developing world. way out of the conflict.

“The military aid we provide is to ensure that when Ukraine sits at the negotiating table, it will be in the strongest position. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters on Tuesday that it will continue our military, economic, humanitarian and political support.

Many Western officials doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon open up to a deal that would include the withdrawal of Russian forces from occupied Ukraine, a key demand for Kyiv.

Since Mr. Putin said in late September that parts of eastern and southern Ukraine belong to Russia, Kyiv has said it will not negotiate with Moscow until another leader is found in the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Mr. Putin’s insistence on the illegitimacy of Russia’s territorial claims seems to leave little room for negotiations at the moment.

Andrey Rudenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, said on Tuesday in the comments of the state news agency RIA, “we have always clearly shown our readiness for such talks.” “There are no preconditions on our part, except the basic one – showing good will.”

Following recent battlefield successes, Ukraine has demanded the return of all occupied territories as a condition of the peace deal, including Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbas region, which Russia seized in 2014.

Ukraine’s advance and attacks on Russian military installations in Crimea have boosted Kiev’s hope that it can retake the peninsula, but some Western capitals are more cautious given Mr Putin’s importance to Crimea.

Officials in Kyiv and Western capitals say military realities will dictate how far Ukraine can restore its internationally recognized borders.

Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday.


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Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Russian artillery destroyed part of the road in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine.


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Daniel Cheng Shou-Yi / Zuma Press

Since Russia launched its massive offensive in February, many Western governments have been skeptical about how much territory Ukraine could retake through war. Since the end of summer, Kyiv has dispelled such doubts with attacks in the east and south of Ukraine, especially in the Kharkiv region.

However, continued military and financial aid from the West is critical to Ukraine’s ability to move forward. Many in Kyiv fear that aid cuts could derail Ukraine’s hopes of retaking the occupied territories, leaving it with a weak hand in negotiations.

Ukraine also fears that any ceasefire would allow Russian forces to regroup and that Mr Putin would use the talks to strengthen Russian control over the occupied territories.

Kyiv authorities continue to warn the West about the dangers of premature negotiations.

“What do you mean by the word “negotiation”? Russian ultimatums are known to everyone: “We came with a tank, we acknowledged the defeat and loss of territories.” This is unacceptable. So what is it about? Or are you just hiding the word ‘surrender’ behind the word ‘settlement’?” The adviser to the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podolyak announced this on Twitter on Tuesday.

Evidence of alleged Russian war crimes in places such as Bucha and Izyum, which Moscow has denied, has strengthened Ukraine’s insistence on the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from its territory.

However, the global economic toll of the war and signs of political reconciliation in Western countries are increasing uncertainty about how long the US and Europe will support Kyiv’s position.

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Ukraine has continued to call for arms shipments from the West to protect its cities from Russian missile and drone attacks and to help it retake territory it has occupied.

European and American officials say their commitment to Ukraine has not been confirmed and that their military and economic support will continue as long as Kyiv believes it can win more victories on the battlefield. On Wednesday, the European Union will decide how to give Ukraine a monthly budget aid of 1.5 billion euros (about $1.5 billion) to help it through 2023.

Leaders of the Group of Seven leaders last month identified some of the key building blocks of a just solution, including respecting Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity and providing Ukraine with enough weapons to defend itself. But they were careful not to box Kiev in issues such as territorial concessions.

Some Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have recently made it clear that the deal would ultimately require Mr Zelenskyi’s government to meet with Mr Putin to hammer out its terms. Mr. Macron said that the time of making this decision should be at the discretion of Kyiv.

In comments late Monday, Mr. Zelensky welcomed this week’s delivery of the nation’s advanced surface-to-air missile system, or Nasams, and Aspid air defense systems, provided by Spain, after weeks of Russian attacks. caused serious damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and caused numerous power outages in Ukrainian cities.

“The defense of Ukraine’s skies is certainly not complete, but we are gradually moving towards our goal,” Mr. Zelensky said. He added that Russia targeted 50 cities and towns across Ukraine with missile attacks on Monday, which was the last obstacle to dampen Ukraine’s morale as winter approaches.

Ukraine’s military offensive against Russian occupation forces in the south has slowed as both sides are exhausted after weeks of fighting, with muddy terrain in some areas making it difficult for armored vehicles to advance.

War damage in Kherson, an occupied region of southern Ukraine.


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STRINGER/REUTERS

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, visited a Ukrainian refugee center near Kyiv on Tuesday.


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POOL/REUTERS

In the southern Kherson region, Russian officials said they had nearly completed a mass evacuation campaign aimed at clearing the center of the region of residents ahead of a planned defense against advancing Ukrainian forces. According to Ukrainian officials, some of the elite Russian forces have left the city, and Moscow has replaced them with newly formed soldiers who are responsible for holding the line if Kyiv forces reach the city.

Western officials said on Tuesday that Russia had begun building defense structures near occupied Mariupol, a front-line town in the country’s southeast that was captured by Russia in May following heavy fighting, much of it to became a ruin.

The British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that the Russian occupation authorities in Mariupol are producing special anti-tank formations called Dragon’s Teeth as part of efforts to strengthen the area. The ministry said the dragon’s teeth were also sent to Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, which Russia partially controls and now considers part of its territory.

Western officials say the construction of fortified lines far from active war zones is evidence of Russia’s campaign to consolidate the occupied territories, as wealth on the battlefield shifts to Kyiv.

“This activity suggests that Russia is making serious efforts to prepare defenses behind its front lines in depth and is likely to prevent any rapid advances by Ukraine if developments are made,” the British Ministry of Defense said.

Write to Matthew Luxmoore at Matthew.Luxmo[email protected], Laurence Norman at [email protected] and Marcus Walker at [email protected]

Corrections and enhancements
The European Union will decide how to give Ukraine 1.5 billion euros (about 1.5 billion dollars) a month in budgetary aid to help Ukraine until 2023. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the European Union would give Ukraine 1.5 billion euros. 2023. (Corrected: November 8)

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