Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he is ready for “genuine peace talks” with Russia, under pressure from Western backers to signal a willingness to negotiate amid concerns over the mounting costs of the eight-month war.
Mr. Zelenskiy said Ukrainian terms for the talks included returning Ukrainian control over its territory, compensating Kiev for Moscow’s occupation and bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
In a speech late Monday, he said the focus should be on “stopping Russian aggression, restoring our regional integrity and forcing Russia to engage in genuine peace talks.”
The prospects of imminent peace talks are slim, with both sides still believing they can win.
Ukraine has made significant gains on the battlefield in recent months and is pressing for more. Western capitals say the Kremlin is escalating the war rather than seeking opportunities for talks, as Russia believes it needs to outwit the West and erode Western support for Kyiv.
U.S. and European officials said it would be up to Ukraine to define the terms of any acceptable settlement.
But Western officials have broadened their message in recent weeks, moving away from repeated promises of military and financial support and starting to talk about a peaceful outcome to the war, responding to pressures at home and demands in large parts of the developing world. Way out of conflict.
“Our military assistance puts Ukraine in the strongest possible position when it comes to the negotiating table. That military support, our economic support, our humanitarian support and our political support will continue,” US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Dohnfried told reporters on Tuesday.
Many Western officials suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin would soon be open to a settlement that would include a Russian withdrawal from occupied territories in Ukraine—a key demand of Kyiv.
Since Putin said in late September that eastern and southern parts of Ukraine belong to Russia, Kyiv has said it will not negotiate with Moscow until there is another leader in the Kremlin. Mr Putin’s insistence that Russia’s territorial claims are non-negotiable, meanwhile, now seems unlikely.
“We have always made clear our readiness for such talks,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Rudenko said in comments carried by state news agency RIA on Tuesday. “There are no preliminary conditions from our side, except for the main condition – show goodwill to Ukraine.”
Buoyed by recent battlefield victories, Ukraine has demanded that all occupied territories be returned to its control as a condition of any peace deal, including Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbass region captured by Russia in 2014.
Ukrainian advances and attacks on Russian military bases in Crimea have bolstered Kyiv’s hopes of retaking the peninsula, but some Western capitals are increasingly wary of the importance Putin attaches to Crimea.
Officials in Kyiv and western capitals say military realities will dictate how far Ukraine can restore internationally recognized borders.
Since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February, many Western governments have been skeptical about how much territory Ukraine could retake through war. Since late summer, Kyiv has sought to dispel such suspicions with offensives in eastern and southern Ukraine, particularly in the Kharkiv region.
However, continued Western military and economic support is essential to Ukraine’s progress. Many in Kyiv fear the aid cuts could derail Ukraine’s hopes of recapturing occupied territories and force it into negotiations with a weak hand.
Ukraine fears that any ceasefire would allow Russian forces to regroup and that Mr Putin would use the talks to consolidate Russian control over the occupied territories.
Kiev officials continue to warn the West about the dangers of premature talks.
“What do you mean by the word negotiations? Russian ultimatums are famous: ‘We come with tanks, admit defeat and loss of territory.’ This is unacceptable. So what is there to talk about? Or is the word ‘surrender’ hiding behind the word ‘settlement’? Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Evidence of alleged Russian war crimes in places like Bucha and Isium, denied by Moscow, has strengthened Ukraine’s insistence on a full Russian withdrawal from its territory.
However, the global economic toll of the war and signs of a disintegration of political consensus in the West raise uncertainty about how long the US and Europe will support Kyiv’s position.
Ukraine has called for more arms supplies from the West to protect cities from Russian missile and drone attacks and help retake occupied territories.
European and US officials say their commitment to Ukraine has not wavered and that they will continue their military and financial support as long as Kyiv believes it can achieve more on the battlefield. On Wednesday, the EU will outline how it will provide Ukraine with 1.5 billion euros (about $1.5 billion) a month in budgetary aid to help it reach the 2023 deadline.
Leaders of the Group of Seven major nations last month laid out some of the basic building blocks of what a fair settlement could look like, including respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring that Ukraine is adequately armed to defend itself. But they were careful not to pigeonhole Kiev on issues such as territorial concessions.
Some Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have recently made it clear that a compromise would require Mr Zelenskiy’s government to sit down with Mr Putin. Mr Macron said the timing of that decision should be in Kiev’s hands.
In his comments late Monday, Mr. Zelenskiy praised this week’s provision of the US-Norwegian National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or Nassams, and Spanish-supplied Aspid air defense systems, after weeks of Russian attacks. It caused significant damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and caused several blackouts in Ukrainian cities.
“The defense of Ukraine’s skies is obviously not complete, but gradually we are moving towards the goal,” Mr. Zelensky said. He added that Russia launched missile strikes on 50 towns and cities across Ukraine on Monday, the latest barrage aimed at eroding Ukrainian morale as winter sets in.
Ukraine’s military offensive against Russian occupation forces in the south has slowed, with both sides reeling from weeks of fighting and muddy ground in some areas making it difficult for armored vehicles to advance.
In the southern Kherson region, Russian-installed officials said a mass-evacuation campaign aimed at clearing the regional capital of residents was nearly complete ahead of a planned defense against advancing Ukrainian forces. Some elite Russian troops left the city, Ukrainian officials said, and were replaced by Moscow’s newly mobilized troops tasked with holding the line if Kiev’s forces reached the city.
Western officials said on Tuesday that Russia had begun building defensive structures near the occupied Mariupol, a city deep in the country’s southeastern frontline, which Russia captured after months of fighting.
Russian occupation authorities in Mariupol are building concrete anti-tank structures known as dragon’s teeth as part of efforts to fortify the area, the UK Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday. Dragon’s teeth have also been sent to the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, which Russia partially controls and now claims as part of its territory, the ministry said.
The construction of fortifications away from areas of active combat is evidence of a Russian campaign to capture occupied territories when battlefield fortunes turn in Kyiv’s favor, Western officials say.
“This activity indicates that Russia is making a significant effort to build defenses deep behind their current front line, potentially preventing rapid Ukrainian advances if breakthroughs occur,” the UK Ministry of Defense said.
Corrections and Amplifications
The EU will set out how it will provide Ukraine with 1.5 billion euros (about $1.5 billion) a month in budgetary aid to reach 2023. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ukraine would receive €1.5 billion. In 2023. (Corrected on 8 November)
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