"Not A Single Inch": Ukraine Open to Neutrality, But Refuse To Yield Territory

Ukraine is open to discussing Russia’s demand of neutrality as long as it’s given security guarantees, though it won’t surrender a “single inch” of territory, a top foreign policy aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
March 10, 2022 | 17:07

“Surely, we are ready for a diplomatic solution,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on March 9 from Kyiv.

“Our first and foremost pre-condition for having such kind of negotiations is immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of backing off his Feb. 24 military order, repeatedly insisting that his military will press forward and that the operation is going as planned - even as it faces stiffer-than-expected resistance.

Ukraine, the U.S., and European allies have forcefully denounced the event, as residential neighborhoods are hit by Russian artillery and missile fire. The southeast port city of Mariupol is under siege, with the government saying thousands are trapped, according to Bloomberg.

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Zhovkva reinforced Ukraine’s demand for guarantees from neighbors and allies such as the U.S., U.K., and Germany. “Only security guarantees from Russia will not be enough,” Zhovkva said, though he declined to provide details and spell out how it would be compatible with a neutral status.

Approaching the third week of the escalated conflict, the U.S. and European Union allies are ratcheting up sanctions measures that have triggered a plunge in the value of the ruble and a cascade of declarations by companies that they’re leaving or unwinding three-decade-old investments in Russia.

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have yielded little after three rounds beyond limited progress on setting up humanitarian corridors. Zhovkva reiterated Zelenskiy’s repeated offer to hold direct talks with Putin, one not reciprocated by the Kremlin, he said.

Putin stated the goal of the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine. Further demands include acknowledging Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the recognition of separatist regions in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.

‘Not a Single Inch’

Ukrainian soldiers help an elderly woman to cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 7, 2022. Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian soldiers help an elderly woman to cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 7, 2022. Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

The Ukrainian leader raised the prospect of potential negotiations this week by signaling in an ABC News interview that the separatist regions’ status could be up for discussion, though made clear that he’s not prepared to meet Putin’s demands -- a point was driven home by his adviser.

“We will not trade our territories -- not a single inch,” Zhovkva said.

He also reinforced Ukraine’s insistence that it will continue to seek NATO membership, a step that Putin has viewed as a red line -- and underpinned the logic of the Russian leader’s attempts to keep Ukraine in the Kremlin’s fold. Even NATO allies have signaled that membership for Kyiv is a distant goal, though Zelenskiy’s government hasn’t softened its position, according to Bloomberg.

Russia will stop 'in a moment' if Ukraine meets terms

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Russia has told Ukraine it is ready to halt military operations "in a moment" if Kyiv meets a list of conditions, the Kremlin spokesman said on March 7.

Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was demanding that Ukraine cease military action, change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, and recognize the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states.

It was the most explicit Russian statement so far of the terms it wants to impose on Ukraine to halt what it calls its "special military operation", now on its 12th day.

Peskov told Reuters in a telephone interview that Ukraine was aware of the conditions. "And they were told that all this can be stopped in a moment."

There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian side.

Russia has attacked Ukraine from the north, east, and south, pounding cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv, and the port of Mariupol. The military escalation launched on Feb. 24, has caused the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two, provoked outrage across the world, and led to heavy sanctions on Moscow, according to Reuters.

But the Kremlin spokesman insisted Russia was not seeking to make any further territorial claims on Ukraine and said it was "not true" that it was demanding Kyiv be handed over.

"We really are finishing the demilitarisation of Ukraine. We will finish it. But the main thing is that Ukraine ceases its military action. They should stop their military action and then no one will shoot," he said.

On the issue of neutrality, Peskov said: "They should make amendments to the constitution according to which Ukraine would reject any aims to enter any bloc."

He added: "We have also spoken about how they should recognize that Crimea is Russian territory and that they need to recognize that Donetsk and Lugansk are independent states. And that’s it. It will stop in a moment."

IAEA chief to take part in Russia-Ukraine meeting in Turkey

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the UN nuclear watchdog group the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will fly on Thursday to the Turkish city of Antalya, where the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine plan to meet.

“In meetings there, I hope to make progress on the urgent issue of ensuring the safety and security of #Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. We need to act now!” Grossi said on Twitter.

Russia has seized a nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia and radioactive waste facilities near the defunct nuclear power plant at Chernobyl.

Ukrainian staff is still operating both, but in conditions, Grossi has said put the facilities’ safety at risk. The watchdog said monitoring systems in both sites have stopped transmitting data to its headquarters, according to Al Jazeera.

Ukraine evacuated 40,000 in one day but problems with Mariupol, Kyiv, and Kharkiv areas

A woman reacts as people flee Russia's invasion on Ukraine, in Irpin outside Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mikhail Palinchak
A woman reacts as people flee the war, in Irpin outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mikhail Palinchak

Ukraine evacuated more than 40,000 people in one day on Wednesday but struggled to get civilians away from conflict zones around the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, one of the negotiators in the Russia talks David Arakhamia said.

"Over 40,000 women and children were evacuated from all over Ukraine in one day. Tried 100,000, but failed," he said in a post on social media. Ukraine has accused Russia of shelling civilian areas and preventing evacuations. Russia in turn blamed Ukraine.

Separately Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about boosting Ukraine's defensive capabilities, according to Reuters.

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