President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine could declare neutrality and consider talks on the disputed eastern area of the country.
While he suggested Ukraine could compromise, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine’s goal is securing its independence and its “territorial integrity.”
In an overnight speech to his nation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine sought peace “without delay” in talks set to start in Istanbul. Zelenskyy also suggested a deal might be possible over “the complex question of Donbas.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine would not try to take back the entire Donbas, which has been an area of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014. He said that would “lead to World War III.” It was not clear how a compromise would also keep Ukraine's territorial integrity.
The Ukrainian leader has said similar things before, but rarely so forcefully. His latest comments could help peace talks with Russia move forward when they are to restart on Tuesday.
Zelenskyy also said Ukraine needs security guarantees as part of any deal and only a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin could end the war.
“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state — we are ready to go for it,” Zelenskyy told independent Russian reporters on Sunday.
Zelenskyy added that a peace agreement would have to be put to a vote of Ukrainian voters. But Russian troops would have to withdraw from the country first.
“A referendum is impossible in the presence of troops. No one will consider the referendum results legitimate if there are foreign troops on the country’s territory,” he said.
Zelenskyy said that a possible compromise could see Russia pull back its troops to areas where they had been before the invasion started on Feb. 24.
After over a month of fighting, Ukraine and Western nations say Russia’s goal could now be to take over and divide parts of the country.
Last week, Russia's military movement suggested it would concentrate on expanding territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine. The month-old war has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet. But only after the important parts of a possible deal are negotiated, he said.
Lavrov also accused Ukraine of not being truthful with the offer of peace talks. He added Russia needs results.
Russia has long demanded that Ukraine promise not to join the western NATO alliance. If Ukraine accepts a deal to stay neutral, it will not join NATO. Russia's territorial demands include Crimea and all of Donbas.
A senior U.S. State Department official who is unnamed, however, told Reuters that Putin “is not willing to compromise at this point."
Russian officials also called a comment from U.S. President Joe Biden about Putin “alarming.”
On Saturday, Biden delivered a speech in Warsaw, Poland, at the end of his four-day European trip. He delivered a forceful denunciation of Putin and called on Western democracies to remain united against a dictator.
At the end of his speech, Biden said of the Russian president: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
U.S. officials quickly added that Biden was not calling for an immediate change in Russia’s government.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, quickly denounced Biden’s comment. He said, “it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”
Biden told reporters Monday his comment was only his personal feeling. He said he was just expressing “moral outrage.”
He added, “I wasn’t then, nor am I, now articulating a policy change.”
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.
Words in This Story
integrity — n. the quality of being honest and fair
status — n. the position or rank of someone or something when compared to others in a society, organization, group, etc.
referendum — n. an event in which the people of a county, state, etc., vote for or against a law that deals with a specific issue : a public vote on a particular issue
legitimate — adj. fair or reasonable
concentrate — v. to give your attention to the thing you are doing, reading, etc.