Putin offers truce if Ukraine exits Moscow-occupied areas and drops NATO bid — nonstarters for Kyiv – Chicago Tribune



Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Friday to “immediately” order a cease-fire 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 industrialized nations in Italy and after the U.S. and Ukraine this week also 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 proposal 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 become 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 somber Foreign Ministry officials, 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 recognize its territorial gains and drop its bid to join NATO.

But Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called Putin’s plan “manipulative,” “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 U.N. Charter.”

Besides wanting to join NATO, Ukraine demands that Russia withdraw its troops from all of its territory, including the Crimean Peninsula that was illegally annexed in 2014, restoring its territorial integrity, holding Russia accountable for war crimes and paying 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 Russia 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 in Putin’s proposal 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.

U.S. Defense 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.”

Putin insisted Friday that Kyiv should withdraw from all four annexed regions entirely and essentially cede them to Moscow within their administrative borders. In Zaporizhzhia in the southeast, Russia still doesn’t control the region’s namesake administrative capital with a pre-war population of about 700,000, and in the neighboring Kherson region, Moscow withdrew from Kherson’s biggest city and capital of the same name in November 2022.

Putin said that if “Kyiv and Western capitals” reject his offer, “it is their business, their political and moral responsibility for continuing the bloodshed.”

Throughout the war, the Kremlin has repeatedly aired its readiness for peace talks with Kyiv and blamed the West for undermining its efforts to end the conflict.

Putin went further Friday and claimed that his troops never intended to storm Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, even though they approached the city.

“In essence, it was nothing other than an operation to force the Ukrainian regime to peace. The troops were there to push the Ukrainian side to negotiate, to try and find an acceptable solution,” he said.

Moscow withdrew from Kyiv in March 2022 and described it a goodwill gesture as peace talks between the two began, but the pullback took place amid fierce Ukrainian resistance that significantly slowed down Russia’s battlefield advances.

Putin also claimed that in that same month, he told one foreign official he wasn’t ruling out withdrawing forces from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and ceding occupied parts of them back to Ukraine, as long as Kyiv allowed Russia to have a “strong land connection” to Crimea.

He said the official planned on bringing that proposal to Kyiv — which Moscow “welcomed,” as it generally welcomed “attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict.” But the Kremlin then annexed both regions, along with the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, citing the results of sham “referendums” it staged there. Putin mentioned those and said that “the matter is closed forever and is no longer up for discussion.”



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