Ukraine outlines model for negotiations with Russia

Kiev is not ruling out peace talks on the conflict with Moscow, but they can only be held through intermediaries, Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky has stated. He suggested that the format used to broker the 2022 Black Sea grain deal could provide a foundation for negotiations.

Ukraine has previously refused to accept Russia’s terms as the basis for talks and has accused Moscow of being incapable of good-faith negotiations. In late 2022, Zelensky issued a decree proclaiming the “impossibility” of talks with Moscow while Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in power.

Moscow, meanwhile, has maintained that it is ready to restart negotiations, but only if Kiev renounces claims to former territories that have become part of Russia. In autumn 2022, four former Ukrainian territories – the two breakaway Donbass republics and the regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye – formally joined Russia following a series of referendums. Ukraine has never recognized the results and continues to lay claim to these regions, as well as Crimea, which joined Russia following a similar referendum in 2014.

In his interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Zelensky claimed that Ukraine “can find a model” for a potential settlement with Russia. He pointed to the deal brokered two years ago by Türkiye and the UN that allowed the establishment of a corridor for agricultural exports from Ukrainian ports.

According to Zelensky, Ankara and the UN signed separate agreements with Moscow and Kiev. “It worked”, he said, adding that the grain corridor then existed “long enough”.

Moscow and Kiev were close to reaching another grain deal in March, but Ukrainian negotiators abruptly walked away after two months of talks, according to Reuters.

Agreements on “territorial integrity, energy and freedom of navigation” could be struck between Moscow and Kiev in the same format, Zelensky stated. He suggested that other countries could be invited to mediate.

“No one should say that it is… just Europe and the US,” he said, adding that nations from Asia, Africa, and South America should participate and help prepare the documents that would be presented to Moscow and Kiev.

“So far, there is only this model,” Zelensky continued. He stressed, however, that the final agreement must “suit” Kiev and be based on Ukraine’s terms.

Zelensky has long sought to promote his own ten-point “peace formula”, most recently during the summit in Switzerland on June 15-16, to which Russia was not invited. Moscow has flatly rejected Zelensky’s terms, insisting that the status of its newly acquired territories is non-negotiable. Putin further demanded in June that Kiev withdraw all its troops from the areas of the four Russian regions it currently controls.

According to Putin, Ukraine must also renounce its plan to join NATO and become a neutral country, as well as limit the size of its army.

Despite rejecting Russia’s terms, Kiev has recently signaled its willingness to end the fighting. In June, the deputy head of Zelensky’s office, Igor Zhovkva, said Ukraine wanted “peace as soon as possible”.

Zelensky stated last week that Kiev does not want to “prolong the war” or make it “last for years.”

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