Nov 8, 2022 - World

Zelensky sets high bar for any peace talks with Putin

Zelensky remotely addresses the COP27 climate conference on Tuesday. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Monday that Ukraine is prepared to negotiate with Russia if certain conditions are met, including the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, punishment of war criminals and compensation for Kyiv for the invasion.

Between the lines: U.S. officials have reportedly been privately urging Zelensky — who said in September that he'd only negotiate with Russia's next president, not Vladimir Putin — to signal openness to talks. Zelensky reiterated Ukraine's several conditions for any such talks and one of his top aides denied Tuesday that Kyiv felt any pressure to negotiate.

What they're saying: “One more time: restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the U.N. charter, compensation for all material losses caused by the war, punishment for every war criminal and guarantees that this does not happen again," Zelensky said in an address on Monday night.

  • While Zelensky called those "completely understandable conditions," they're clearly not conditions Moscow will accept.
  • Mykhailo Podolyak, who took part in Ukraine's negotiations with Russia earlier in the war, told Radio Liberty on Tuesday: "We are pushing the Russian army out of territory. And against this background, forcing us to the negotiation process, and in fact to recognize the ultimatum of the Russian Federation, is nonsense, and no one will do that."
  • The White House has asked Zelensky to express willingness to negotiate not because it thinks Russia is prepared for constructive talks, but because of the message Ukraine's position sends to countries concerned that the war will drag on indefinitely, the Washington Post reports.

The other side: Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, claimed Monday that Russia is prepared to negotiate but Ukraine isn't.

  • However, Putin has said Russia won't negotiate over the four regions of Ukraine that he unilaterally claimed to have annexed into Russia — a move widely condemned as illegal under international law.
  • That means Moscow's starting point for negotiations would be that Ukraine must concede 20% of its territory, much of which Russia doesn't actually control militarily.

The bottom line: No serious negotiations look likely for the time being. In the meantime, the Biden administration says its focus is to strengthen Ukraine militarily so it will enter a future negotiating table with the most possible leverage.

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