LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine could declare neutrality and offer security guarantees to Russia to secure peace “without delay,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said ahead of another planned round of talks — though he said only a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s leader could end the war.
While hinting at possible concessions in an interview with independent Russian media outlets, Zelenskyy stressed that Ukraine’s priority is ensuring its sovereignty and its “territorial integrity” — preventing Russia from carving up the country, something Ukraine and the West say could now be Moscow’s goal.
But, Zelenskyy added: “Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state — we are ready to go for it.”
The Ukrainian leader has suggested as much before, but rarely so forcefully, and the latest remarks come as the two sides said talks would resume Tuesday.
Russia has long demanded that Ukraine drop any hope of joining the western NATO alliance, which Moscow sees as a threat. Zelenskyy said that the question of neutrality, which would keep Ukraine out of NATO or other military alliances, should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw.
Zelenskyy has also long stressed that Ukraine needs security guarantees of its own as part of any deal.
“We must come to an agreement with the president of the Russian Federation, and in order to reach an agreement, he needs to get out of there on his own feet … and come to meet me,” he also said in an interview that Russia barred its media from publishing.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that the two presidents could meet, but only after the key elements of a potential deal are negotiated.
“The meeting is necessary once we have clarity regarding solutions on all key issues,” Lavrov said in an interview with Serbian media. He accused Ukraine of only wanting to “imitate talks,” but said Russia needed concrete results.
In an overnight video address to his nation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine sought peace “without delay” in talks due to get underway in Istanbul. That location was agreed after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, the Turkish leader’s office said. Negotiators are expected to arrive Monday.
Earlier talks, both by video and in person, have failed to make progress on ending a more than month-old war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including almost 4 million from their country.
With Russia’s offensive stalled in many areas, its troops have resorted to pummeling Ukrainian towns and cities with rockets and artillery in a grinding war. Fierce fighting has raged on the outskirts of Kyiv, but Russian troops remain miles from the city center, their aim of quickly encircling the capital faltering
In Stoyanka village near Kyiv, Ukrainian soldier Serhiy Udod said Russian troops had taken up defensive positions and suffered heavy losses.
He said “probably they thought it would be like Crimea,” which Russia annexed in 2014.
“But, here it’s not like in Crimea. We are not happy to see them. Here they suffer and get killed.”
A fiercer than expected Ukrainian resistance — bolstered by weapons from the U.S. and other Western allies — has been credited with bogging Russian forces down.
But Zelenskyy has made increasingly exasperated pleas for Western countries to do more, including sending fighter jets, accusing political leaders on Sunday of lacking courage. Countries from the NATO alliance have been hesitant to give Zelenskyy some of the more powerful equipment he’s begged for, for fear of triggering a much wider war.
In fact, Russia’s invasion has most Americans at least somewhat worried that the U.S. will be drawn directly into the conflict and could be targeted with nuclear weapons, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Moscow now says its focus is on securing the entire eastern Donbas region, which has been partially controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014.
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, accused Russia of seeking to split Ukraine in two, making the comparison to North and South Korea. He predicted that guerrilla warfare by Ukrainians would derail such plans.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has banned reporting on troop and equipment movements not announced or approved by the military. Journalists who violate the law could face three to eight years in prison.
The restrictions come after Ukrainian authorities criticized social media users who posted photos or videos of troop movements. In a widely publicized case, a Kyiv resident was accused by the security services of posting images on TikTok showing Ukrainian military vehicles near a shopping mall that was later destroyed by a Russian missile strike. Russia alleged Ukraine used the site to resupply rocket artillery.
Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Nebi Qena in Kyiv, Cara Anna in Lviv and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.