Saturday, 15 June 2024 02:52

What to know after Day 842 of Russia-Ukraine war

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RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

Russia was ready to withdraw from southern Ukraine – Putin

Russia was open to withdrawing its troops from Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions early in the Ukraine conflict on the condition that Kiev agreed to an uninterrupted land connection between Crimea and the mainland, President Vladimir Putin stated on Friday.

Speaking at a meeting with the country’s senior diplomats, Putin revealed that in early March 2022, as Russian troops were advancing into southern Ukraine, a senior foreign politician representing the West proposed mediating the conflict between Moscow and Kiev. While Putin did not name the leader, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev identified him as then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

According to the Russian president, Bennett asked officials in Moscow at the time why Russian troops were operating in Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions, given that their stated goal was to help Donbass.

Bennett was told the decision to send Russian troops to those regions was made based on the plans drawn by the General Staff, which sought to bypass heavily fortified Ukrainian positions in Donbass, Putin explained.

According to the Russian leader, when Bennett asked whether Russian troops would remain in Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions after the end of the conflict, Putin said he was open to the idea of pulling them back to their bases.

“I replied that, in general, I do not rule out that Ukraine will retain its sovereignty over these territories, provided that Russia will have a solid land connection to Crimea.”

Putin noted that to secure the guarantee, Moscow and Kiev would have to sign a legally binding “servitude” agreement, a property law that ties rights and obligations to the ownership or possession of land.

The deal would then have to be finalized with the involvement of the UN Security Council, as well as local citizens and the Russian public.

However, when Bennett traveled to Kiev to present Moscow’s proposal to the Ukrainian government, it was rejected, and the Israeli leader was branded a Russian sympathizer, Putin noted.

Now, this proposal is off the table, given that Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions, along with the two Donbass republics, voted to join Russia in public referendums in the fall of 2022, Putin stated. “There can be no talk of violating our national unity... This question is closed forever and beyond any debate.”

At the same time, Putin signaled that Moscow was ready for talks with Ukraine on the condition that Kiev fully withdraws its troops from Donbass, Kherson, and Zaporozhye regions and abandons plans to join NATO. But the proposal has been rejected by Kiev, which insists upon returning the country to its 1991 borders.

 

WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Putin demands more Ukrainian land to end war, terms swiftly rejected by Kyiv

Putin sets out most detailed conditions so far to end war

Offer comes ahead of Swiss peace summit

Ukraine rejects Putin's conditions as 'a sham'

Says Putin's terms amount to accepting defeat

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow, demands Kyiv swiftly rejected as tantamount to surrender.

On the eve of a conference in Switzerland to which Russia has not been invited, Putin set out maximalist conditions wholly at odds with the terms demanded by Ukraine, apparently reflecting Moscow's growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine's demilitarisation, unchanged from the day he sent in his troops on Feb. 24, 2022, and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal. He also repeated his call for Ukraine's "denazification", based on what Kyiv calls an unfounded slur against its leadership.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that Putin's conditions were tantamount to proposing that Ukraine admit defeat and sign away its sovereignty.

There was "no possibility to find compromise" on the basis of what Putin had proposed, he said.

The timing of the speech was clearly intended to preempt the Swiss summit, billed as a "peace conference" despite Russia's exclusion, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy seeks a show of international support for Kyiv's terms to end the war.

"The conditions are very simple," Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia claimed the four regions, which its forces control only partially, as part of its own territory in 2022, an act rejected by most countries at the United Nations as illegal. Moscow also seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

"As soon as they declare in Kyiv that they are ready for such a decision and begin a real withdrawal of troops from these regions, and also officially announce the abandonment of their plans to join NATO - on our side, immediately, literally at the same minute, an order will follow to cease fire and begin negotiations," Putin said.

"I repeat, we will do this immediately. Naturally, we will simultaneously guarantee the unhindered and safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units and formations."

Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory in the third year of the war. Ukraine says peace can only be based on the full withdrawal of Russian forces and the restoration of its territorial integrity.

The weekend summit in Switzerland, which will be attended by representatives of more than 90 nations and organisations, is expected to shy away from territorial issues and focus instead on matters such as food security and nuclear safety in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has said the gathering will prove "futile" without Russia being represented.

EXISTENTIAL QUESTION

The maximalist nature of Putin's conditions appeared to reflect his growing confidence in Moscow's ability to impose its own terms, with its forces gradually advancing in recent months.

Putin said "the future existence of Ukraine" depended on it withdrawing its forces, on it adopting a neutral status, and on beginning talks with Russia, and said Kyiv's military situation would worsen if it rejected the offer.

"Today we are making another concrete, real peace proposal. If in Kyiv and in the Western capitals they refuse it as before, then, in the end, it is their business, their political and moral responsibility for the continuation of bloodshed," Putin said.

"I repeat, our principled position is the following: the neutral, non-aligned, nuclear-free status of Ukraine, its demilitarization and denazification."

Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected such language since the start of the conflict, describing it as a false pretext for an imperial-style war of territorial conquest. Ukraine says any demand for its demilitarisation or future neutrality would expose it to further Russian attacks.

Putin said arrangements for ending the war would need to be set down in international agreements.

"Naturally, this also presupposes the lifting of all Western sanctions against Russia. I believe that Russia is offering an option that will make it possible to actually end the war in Ukraine," he said.

Putin was speaking in the same week that the United States hit Russia with yet another wave of sanctions, announced a 10-year security pact with Ukraine - seen as a potential precursor to eventual NATO membership - and reached a deal with its Group of Seven allies to use interest on Russian assets frozen in the West to back a $50 billion loan to Kyiv.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the message to Putin was that the West would stay the course: "You cannot wait us out. You cannot divide us," said Biden.

 

RT/Reuters

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