Zelensky leaves door open for talks with Russia if troops withdraw

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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA) (PA Media)
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA) (PA Media)

The Ukrainian president has said bridges with Russia are not yet “destroyed”, leaving the door open for future negotiations.

However, he said talks can only take place if Moscow withdraws to its pre-invasion positions, as of February 23, saying he was not elected to lead “a mini-Ukraine of some kind”.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Chatham House think tank, Volodymyr Zelensky said arrangements were needed for discussions to “stop the killing”, with “diplomatic channels” used to regain Ukraine’s territories.

The prerequisite for this would be “regaining the situation as of February 23”, he said.

“They have to fall back,” he added.

“In that situation we will be able to start discussing things normally.”

He said that “despite the fact that they are destroying all our bridges, I think not all the bridges are yet destroyed”, figuratively speaking.

Despite the fact that they are destroying all our bridges, I think not all the bridges are yet destroyed

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged against any negotiations with Russia on terms that “give credence to the Kremlin’s false narrative for the invasion”, according to No 10.

In a phone call with Emmanuel Macron on Friday to congratulate the leader on his victory in last month’s French presidential elections, Mr Johnson is said to have made the comment while stressing that any final decision is for the Ukrainian government.

Mr Johnson and Mr Macron agreed to “co-ordinate more closely on longer-term security and economic support for Ukraine”, according to a Downing Street spokeswoman, with the Prime Minister sharing “his conviction that Ukraine would win, supported with the right level of defensive military assistance”.

The Ukrainian president, in his Chatham House address, also invited German chancellor Olaf Scholz for talks in Kyiv, suggesting the visit could take place on Russia’s annual Victory Day on May 9.

He said the move would be a “very powerful political step”.

Asked whether Ukraine was satisfied with the support it was receiving, particularly from EU nations including Germany, and what he would say to Mr Scholz if he had the chance to speak to him, Mr Zelensky said: “You cannot be slightly evil and slightly good.

“With the right hand you impose sanctions, with the left hand you sign the Russian contracts. This is not right. This is hypocrisy.”

He added: “I think chancellor Scholz, for him, he’s invited, the invitation is open, it’s been for some time now. He’s invited to come to Ukraine. He can make this very powerful political step to come here on May 9, to Kyiv.

“Sometimes in history we have to make certain steps for unity, even if there is some kind of coldness in specific relations.”

Meanwhile, western officials said they had been told Russia had made the “unusual” move of “not inviting” foreign leaders to celebrate Victory Day.

Sometimes in history we have to make certain steps for unity, even if there is some kind of coldness in specific relations

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky

They said that the national holiday, which usually commemorates victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, may be used by Russian president Vladimir Putin to claim the attacks on Ukraine have been successful.

There could be a big announcement, they said, however it is unlikely to be a declaration of war, or mass mobilisation, which has been denied by the Kremlin, as officials have not seen any signs to indicate preparation is under way for either.

They also said they had not seen evidence that Mr Putin was unwell, but added they were not doctors.

In a separate briefing, asked what would happen after May 9, other western officials said the Russian president would “inevitably” claim a “synthetic victory” – perhaps the “totemic status of Mariupol”.

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