KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president has hinted at the possibility of peace talks with Russiaa change from his earlier refusal to negotiate with President Vladimir Putin on the eve of crucial elections in the United States.
Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday evening urged the international community to “force Russia into real peace talks” and listed his usual conditions for dialogue: the return of all land occupied by Ukraine, compensation for damage caused by the war and the prosecution of war crimes.
It’s a change of rhetoric at least from a man who signed an executive order in late September declaring “the impossibility of holding talks” with Putin. But since his preconditions appear to be non-starters for Moscow, it’s hard to see how that would move the talks forward.
Western weapons and aid have been essential to Ukraine’s ability to fight off the Russian invasion, which some initially expected would spread more easily across the country. But we midterm elections Tuesday will define the amount and form of future political and financial support from Washington to Ukraine.
If Republicans take control of Congress, it could become more difficult for President Joe Biden’s administration to advance major military and other aid programs for Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine held several rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey at the start of the war, which is now approaching its nine-month mark. The talks stalled after the last meeting of delegations in Istanbul in March yielded no results.
Zelenskyy said on Monday that Kyiv has “offered (talks) several times and to which we have always received crazy Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, bombings or blackmail”.
But he has more recently refused to negotiate with Putin – in itself a change in tactics after repeatedly calling for a personal meeting with the Russian leader. The Kremlin has brushed off any such meeting.
Zelenskyy listed conditions for the dialogue to begin, including the “restoration of (Ukraine’s) territorial integrity…compensation for all war damage, punishment for every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again”.
Russia, meanwhile, resumed calls for talks after the start of Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the east and south of the country in September, but Ukraine has since dismissed the possibility.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko stressed on Tuesday that Moscow poses no conditions for the resumption of talks with Ukraine and accused Kyiv of lacking “good will”.
“It’s their choice, we have always said that we are ready for such negotiations,” Rudenko said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak insisted in a tweet on Monday that “Ukraine has never refused to negotiate” but first Russia must withdraw its troops from the country. “Is Putin ready? Obviously not,” Podolyak wrote.
In other developments:
— In the eastern region of Donetsk, which the Russians are struggling to take full control of, shelling from Moscow has killed three civilians and injured seven others in the past 24 hours, according to Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Kyrylenko said the deaths occurred in the town of Bakhmut, a key target of Russia’s brutal offensive in Donetsk, and in the town of Krasnohorivka. Last week, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister described the Bakhmut region as the “epicenter” of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
– Elsewhere, two civilians were seriously injured by unexploded mines in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, where Kyiv forces recaptured large swaths of territory in September, the governor of Kharkiv said , Oleh Syniehubov.
— In the partially occupied southern region of Kherson, where Ukrainian troops are waging a successful counteroffensive, Russian-installed authorities say they have “completed” measures to evacuate residents ahead of planned Ukrainian advances.
The Kremlin-appointed administration had sought to relocate tens of thousands of people in anticipation of a deeper Ukrainian advance in the region. Ukrainian military and civilian officials have previously described the resettlement measures as “forced displacement”. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kremlin-backed administration, has repeatedly denied this.
Russian-backed officials in Kherson announced that motorized ferries carrying civilians across the Dnieper and deeper into Russian-held territory were no longer operating. According to Monday’s announcement on Telegram, the main remaining relocation route is through the Antonivskiy Bridge over the Dnieper, which has been repeatedly damaged by Ukrainian attacks and is now operated by the Russian military.
Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia.
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