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Ukraine denies pressure over Russia talks

Ukraine denies the West is pressuring it to hold talks with Russia, vowing not to join any discussions until Moscow relinquishes all occupied territory.

November 9, 2022
By Tom Balmforth
9 November 2022

Ukraine has denied it’s under Western pressure to negotiate with Russia, doubling down on its insistence that talks can only be held if Russia relinquishes all of the territory it has occupied since its invasion.

The remarks by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy followed a Washington Post report on Saturday that the United States had encouraged Ukraine to signal a willingness for talks. 

Zelenskiy’s comments also coincided with US midterm elections, the outcome of which could test Western support for Ukraine.

In an overnight address before he was due to speak to world leaders at the COP27 climate summit, Zelenskiy recited what he called Ukraine’s “completely understandable conditions” for peace talks.

“Once again – restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the United Nations Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again.”

Ukraine had repeatedly proposed such talks but “we always received insane Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail”, Zelenskiy said.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s position that it is open to talks but that Kyiv was refusing them.

Moscow has said it will not negotiate over territory it claims to have annexed from its neighbour Ukraine.

Zelenskiy’s senior adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it was absurd to suggest Western countries would push Kyiv to negotiate on Moscow’s terms, as they were the ones supplying Ukraine with the weapons to drive Russian forces from its land.

He said there was “no coercion” in Kyiv’s relationship with Washington, and suggestions the West was pushing Ukraine to negotiate were part of Russia’s “information program”, though he did not directly rebut the Washington Post report.

Since Russia announced the annexation of Ukrainian territory at the end of September, Zelenskiy has said that Kyiv would never negotiate as long as Vladimir Putin was Russian president.

Separately, Zelenskiy called on Tuesday for an extension to the Black Sea grain export deal that lifted a Russian blockade of three major Ukrainian ports and eased a global food crisis.

The accord, brokered in July by Turkey and the UN, expires on November 19 and looked in jeopardy last month when Russia briefly suspended its participation before rejoining it.

“We maintain the line that the initiative must continue regardless of whether the Russian Federation is willing,” Zelenskiy told Washington’s UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in Kyiv.

Alluding to his country’s status as one of the world’s top grain producers, he added on the Telegram messaging app: “Ukraine is ready to remain the guarantor of world food security.”

Ukraine also wants the grain export deal expanded to include more ports and goods and hopes a decision to renew the pact for at least a year will be taken next week, the deputy infrastructure minister said in a Reuters interview.

Ukrainian forces have been on the offensive in recent months, while Russia is regrouping to defend areas of Ukraine it still occupies, having called up hundreds of thousands of reservists.

Russia has been evacuating civilians from occupied areas, especially from southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, in an operation Kyiv says includes forced deportations – a war crime. 

Moscow says it is taking people to safety.

On Tuesday night, a Ukrainian military statement accused Russian troops of continuing to loot and destroy infrastructure in Kherson, where a showdown has been looming for weeks in the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion.

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