Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Putin offers truce if Ukraine exits Russian-claimed areas, drops NATO bid

Published:Saturday | June 15, 2024 | 12:07 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Friday to “immediately” order a ceasefire in Ukraine and begin negotiations if Kyiv started withdrawing troops from the four regions annexed by Moscow in 2022 and renounced plans to join NATO. Ukraine responded by calling Putin’s proposal “manipulative” and “absurd”.

Putin’s remarks came as Switzerland prepared to host scores of world leaders – but not from Moscow – this weekend to try to map out first steps toward peace in Ukraine.

They also coincided with a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations in Italy and after the US and Ukraine this week signed a 10-year security agreement that Russian officials, including Putin, denounced as “null and void”.

Putin blasted the Switzerland conference as “just another ploy to divert everyone’s attention, reverse the cause and effect of the Ukrainian crisis (and) set the discussion on the wrong track.”

His demands came in a speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry and was aimed at what he called a “final resolution” of the conflict rather than “freezing it”, and stressed the Kremlin is “ready to start negotiations without delay”.

Broader demands for peace that Putin listed included Ukraine’s recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, keeping the country’s non-nuclear status, restricting its military force and protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population. All of these should be part of “fundamental international agreements”, and all Western sanctions against Russia should be lifted, Putin said.

“We’re urging to turn this tragic page of history and to begin restoring, step-by-step, the unity between Russia and Ukraine and in Europe in general,” he said.

Putin’s remarks, made to a group of sombre foreign ministry officials and some senior lawmakers, represented a rare occasion in which he clearly laid out his conditions for ending the war in Ukraine, but it didn’t include any new demands. The Kremlin has said before that Kyiv should recognise its territorial gains and drop its bid to join NATO.

But Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called Putin’s plan “manipulative” and “absurd” and designed to “mislead the international community, undermine diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a just peace, and split the unity of the world majority around the goals and principles of the UN Charter.”

Besides seeking to join NATO, Ukraine wants Russian forces out of its territory, including the Crimean Peninsula that was illegally annexed in 2014, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity; and that Russia be held accountable for war crimes and for Moscow to pay reparations to Kyiv.

Russia launched its a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. After Ukrainian forces thwarted a Russian drive to the capital, much of the fighting has focused in the south and east – and Moscow illegally annexed regions in the east and the south, although it doesn’t fully control any of them.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on social media that there was nothing new from Putin and that the Russian leader “voiced only the ‘standard aggressor’s set’, which has been heard many times already.”

“There is no novelty in this, no real peace proposals and no desire to end the war. But there is a desire not to pay for this war and to continue it in new formats. It’s all a complete sham,” Podolyak wrote on X.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said at NATO headquarters in Brussels that Putin “has illegally occupied sovereign Ukrainian territory. He is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about a peace.”

Austin added that Putin “started this war with no provocation. He could end it today if he chose to do that.”