Putin says Ukraine must withdraw troops, end NATO bid for peace talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow would only halt its offensive on Ukraine if Kyiv effectively surrenders by pulling its troops out of the east and south and dropping its bid for NATO membership.

Ukraine immediately rejected Putin’s hardline “conditions” to halt the full-scale military offensive that he launched in February 2022, with Kyiv trying to corral international support at a major peace summit in Switzerland this weekend.

The two countries have been locked in bloody conflict for more than two years, and no direct peace talks have been held since the first weeks of Russia’s campaign, when it was advancing on the Ukrainian capital.

Ukraine has called for the full withdrawal of Russian troops from its internationally recognised territory, including the annexed Crimean peninsula, as part of any peace deal.

But with Russia advancing on the battlefield once again and Ukraine struggling in the face of both manpower and ammunition shortages, Putin’s comments show little appetite in Moscow to compromise.

“Ukrainian troops must be completely withdrawn from the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Lugansk People’s Republic, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions,” Putin said in a televised address to Russian diplomats in Moscow.

Russia claimed to have annexed the four regions in 2022, despite not having full control over any of them.

The regional capitals of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are still in Ukrainian hands.

“As soon as Kyiv says it is ready to do this and begins really withdrawing troops and officially renounces plans to join NATO, we will immediately, literally that very minute, cease-fire and begin talks,” Putin said.

Russia has repeatedly said it will keep fighting until the goals of its “special military operation” have been fully achieved.

“I repeat, our principled position is as follows: Ukraine’s neutral, non-aligned, non-nuclear status, its demilitarisation and de-Nazification,” Putin said Friday.

Kyiv immediately rubbished the conditions.

“There is no novelty in this, no real peace proposals and no desire to end” the fighting, said Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak.

He called Putin’s demands a “complete sham” that was “offensive to common sense,” in a social media post.

Ukraine has said it will only countenance peace if Russia fully withdraws from the country, and says any halt in fighting on Moscow’s terms will only allow Russia to regroup for another attack, with the goal of capturing the entire country.

Putin on Friday said Moscow could agree to Kyiv “maintaining Ukrainian sovereignty” over the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions “on the condition that Russia has a strong land link with Crimea”.

Military analysts have long said one of Russia’s key goals of the offensive could have been to create a “land bridge” between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, along the southern coast of Ukraine.

In public, Putin and top Russian officials have typically tried to justify their offensive by saying they were protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine from a “neo-Nazi” regime in Kyiv, rather than an attempt to conquer territory.

Ukraine and the West have always rejected those allegations as baseless and cast Russia’s military actions as naked imperial-style aggression.

Russia unilaterally annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, triggering international outrage and armed conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv’s forces in the east of the country.

At the start of the full-scale conflict in 2022, its troops rushed along Ukraine’s southern coast, bombing, encircling and capturing cities like Mariupol to create a land bridge between Russia and Crimea.

Moscow has since controlled a thick belt of territory, extending dozens of kilometres inland, through Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions to the peninsula.

Putin’s comments come a day before heads of state and senior officials from some 90 countries and organisations were set to gather in Switzerland for a major Ukraine peace summit.

Kyiv will use the forum to outline its own peace agenda and rally international support behind it.

Russia was not invited to the summit and Putin on Friday dismissed the initiative.

“What the builders of the meeting in Switzerland are proposing is just another trick to distract everybody’s attention,” he said.

Ukraine has struggled on the battlefield in 2024, facing shortages in manpower and ammunition, as well as hold-ups to Western military aid.

By AFP – Agence France Presse

Back to top button