Ukraine Open to Russia’s Neutrality Demand But Won’t Yield Territory, Aide Says

By BLOOMBERG

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 Zelenskiy said.

“Surely, we are ready for a diplomatic solution,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Wednesday from Kyiv. “Our first and foremost pre-condition for having such kind of negotiations is immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of backing off his Feb. 24 invasion 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 war, 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. 

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 invasion, 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 ordered the invasion with the stated 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’

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 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. 

“Ukraine was, is and will be aspiring to become a member of NATO,” Zhovkva said. Still, when it comes to providing air protection and air defense, “unfortunately we do not have enough response from NATO.” 

In fact, Ukraine has pressed for some form of fast-track EU membership, even as member states in the bloc are divided over whether to grant the former Soviet republic even an initial candidacy status. Zelenskiy doubled down on the ambition in a tweet today, saying membership is “key” for Ukraine.