Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality status, Zelensky tells Russian journalists

Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality status, Zelensky tells Russian journalists

A man walks through the rubble as a result of a rocket attack in the First Sector in Bishiv, Ukraine, on March 27, 2022.Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

Ukraine is ready to discuss adopting a neutral position as part of a peace deal with Russia, but such an agreement must be guaranteed by a third party and put up for a referendum, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr. Zelensky said in remarks broadcast on Sunday.

Zelensky was speaking to Russian reporters in a 90-minute video call, an interview that Moscow officials had already warned Russian media to refrain from reporting. Zelensky spoke in full Russian, as he has done in previous speeches targeting Russian audiences.

Zelensky said that the Russian invasion had destroyed Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine, adding that the damage was worse than the Russian wars in Chechnya.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky said Ukraine refused to discuss some other Russian demands, such as the country’s demilitarization.

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Speaking more than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Zelensky said no peace agreement would be possible without a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops.

He denied any attempt by force to annex all Russian-occupied territories, saying it would lead to a third world war, and said he wanted to “compromise” the eastern Donbass region held by Russian-backed forces since 2014.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine aimed at demilitarizing its neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies call this an excuse for an unprovoked attack.

Zelensky focused on the fate of Mariupol, the eastern port city under siege for weeks. Once a city of 400,000 people, it has long gone through Russian bombardment.

“All entry and exit from the city of Mariupol are blocked,” Zelensky said. “The port is mined. A humanitarian disaster is evident inside the city, as it is impossible to go there with food, medicine and water,” he said.

“I don’t even know with whom the Russian army behaved like this,” he said, adding that the amount of destruction “cannot be compared” to the Russian wars in Chechnya.

Russia denies targeting civilians in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have blamed the failure to open humanitarian corridors.

Zelensky pushed back against Moscow’s allegations that Ukraine had curtailed the rights of Russian speakers, saying it was Russia’s invasion that wiped Russian-speaking cities “off the face of the earth”.

He also dismissed allegations of “joke” by Russia that Ukraine possessed nuclear or chemical weapons.

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