Russia said parts of a possible peace agreement with Ukraine are about to be agreed after Kiev hinted at a possible path to a compromise, giving hope for an end to the three-week war.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the talks were becoming “more realistic”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was “some hope of compromise”, with a neutral status for Ukraine – a of the main Russian demands – now on the table.
“The neutral state is now being seriously discussed along with, of course, security guarantees,” Lavrov told RBC News Wednesday.
“Now this same thing is under discussion in the negotiations: there are absolutely specific formulations that in my opinion are close to the agreement,” Lavrov said.
He said President Vladimir Putin had spoken of neutrality, along with security guarantees for Ukraine without NATO enlargement, as a possible variant in February.
The Kremlin also said Wednesday that a demilitarized Ukraine with its own army along the lines of Austria or Sweden was seen as a possible compromise.
“This is a variant that is currently under discussion and that could really be seen as a compromise,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov from the RIA news agency.
But the Ukrainian presidency shortly afterwards declared that it had rejected proposals for neutrality models based on Austria or Sweden.
“Ukraine is now in a state of direct war with Russia. As a result, the model can only be ‘Ukrainian’ and only on legally verified security guarantees,” its chief negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said in comments published by the Zelenskyy’s office.
He called for a legally binding security agreement, signed by international partners, who “would not stand aside in the event of an attack on Ukraine, as they do today”.
Meanwhile, the talks were supposed to resume Wednesday via video link for what would have been the third consecutive day, the first time they lasted more than a single day, which both sides have suggested means they have entered a more serious phase. .
Imran Khan of Al Jazeera, in a report from the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, said that the fact that negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officials have continued for the third day is “a good sign”.
As early as 2008, NATO promised Ukraine that it would one day become a member of the alliance. Russia has said it cannot allow this to happen and has cited it as part of the rationale for what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Lavrov warned that the negotiations were not easy but that there was “some hope of reaching a compromise”.
Ukraine also made cautious positive statements about the peace talks. He says he is willing to negotiate to end the war, but he will not give up or accept Russian ultimatums.
Lavrov said key issues included the safety of people in eastern Ukraine, the demilitarization of Ukraine, and the rights of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.
“More realistic” negotiations.
Hopes for diplomatic progress rose after Zelenskyy said Tuesday that Ukraine realized it could not join NATO, its more explicit recognition that the goal, enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, was unlikely to come. reached up.
Putin has long described Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia, something the alliance denies.
Lavrov welcomed Zelenskyy’s comment on Wednesday on Russian channel RBK TV, saying the “entrepreneurial spirit” that has begun to emerge in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue.”
Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the parties are discussing a possible compromise idea for a future Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned army.
Zelenskyy said that Russia’s demands during the negotiations are becoming “more realistic” and that more time is needed for the talks, which are held by videoconference.
“The meetings continue and, I am told, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video speech.
He called for more weapons and more sanctions on Russia and repeated his call to “close the skies of Ukraine to Russian missiles and aircraft”.
The Ukrainian leader said Russian forces on Tuesday were unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory and continued heavy shelling of cities.
Announcing the invasion on February 24, Putin accused the United States of threatening Russia by expanding the NATO military alliance eastward in Russia’s backyard.
The Russian president said there was no choice but to launch the military operation because Russian-speaking people in Ukraine have been subjected to genocide by “nationalists and neo-Nazis” since the annexation of Crimea to Russia in 2014.
Ukraine and the West say the claims of genocide are unfounded.