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Zelensky open only to ‘genuine’ peace talks

Ukrainian forces are intent on recapturing a Russian-held area on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

Ukrainian forces are intent on recapturing a Russian-held area on the west bank of the Dnipro River. Photo: EPA

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he is open to talks with Russia, but only “genuine” negotiations that would restore Ukraine’s borders, grant it compensation for Russian attacks and punish those responsible for war crimes.

The remarks, made in an overnight address, came days after a Washington Post report that the US wanted Kyiv to signal its willingness for talks, concerned that by appearing too intransigent Kyiv might harm its case for international support.

Speaking before he was due to address world leaders at a global climate summit on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky said: “Anyone who is serious about the climate agenda should also be serious about the need to immediately stop Russian aggression, restore our territorial integrity, and force Russia into genuine peace negotiations.”

Ukraine had repeatedly proposed such talks, but “we always received insane Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail”, he said.

“Once again – restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again. These are completely understandable conditions.”

Since Russia announced the annexation of Ukrainian territory at the end of September, Mr Zelensky has decreed that Kyiv would never negotiate with Moscow as long as Vladimir Putin remained Russian president. Kyiv officials have repeated that position in recent days, while saying that Kyiv would be willing to negotiate with Mr Putin’s future successor.

“Negotiating with Putin would mean giving up, and we would never give him this gift,” Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday.

Russia was demanding Ukraine give up territory as a pre-condition for talks, which made them impossible for now, Mr Podolyak said: “Society will never accept this. The Russian army will leave Ukrainian territory, and then dialogue will come.”

Ukrainian forces on the offensive

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s position that it was open to talks but that Kyiv was refusing them.

Moscow has repeatedly said it will not negotiate over territory it claims to have annexed from Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have been on the offensive in recent months, while Russia is regrouping to defend areas of Ukraine it still occupies, having called up hundreds of thousands of reservists.

Russia has evacuated civilians from occupied areas, especially from southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, in an operation that Kyiv says includes forced deportations, a war crime. Moscow says it is taking people to safety.

The next big battle is expected to be over a small Russian-controlled pocket of land on the west bank of the Dnipro River. It includes Kherson city, the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion in February.

White House talks with Russian officials

On Monday, a source confirmed reports that White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had held talks with Russian officials about averting escalation of the conflict.

The Kremlin has declined to comment.

The White House did not deny the talks but said it would not make diplomatic moves about Ukraine without Kyiv’s involvement.

“We reserve the right to speak directly at senior levels about issues of concern to the United States. That has happened over the course of the past few months. Our conversations have focused only on … risk reduction and the US-Russia relationship,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.

-Reuters

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