Ukraine is open to discussing neutrality with Russia as long as it gets security guarantees but is not willing to cede a “single inch of territory,” an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday.
“Surely, we are ready for a diplomatic solution,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, told Bloomberg. Zhovka said a precondition for talks is an “immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops,” although Ukrainian and Russian officials have already held three rounds of negotiations.
Zhovkva said in order for Ukraine to declare neutrality, it would need security guarantees from the US and other Western countries. “Only security guarantees from Russia will not be enough,” he said.
Russia has said that it would stop its offensive if Ukraine became neutral, recognized Crimea as Russian territory, and recognized the independence of the Donbas republics of Donestk and Luhansk. But Zhovka said Ukraine “will not trade our territories — not a single inch.”
On Monday, Zelensky signaled some flexibility on these issues, saying Ukraine was ready to “discuss with Russia the future of Crimea and Donbas.” The Ukrainian leader also said he’s “cooled down” on the idea of Ukraine joining NATO, although Zhovka said Ukraine is still “aspiring” to join the military alliance.
Also on Wednesday, a senior US embassy official in Israel said that Washington would not pressure Zelensky to accept Russia’s terms, according to The Times of Israel. The official said that the US supports the diplomacy efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss negotiations with Ukraine.
After Bennett’s meeting with Putin, Israeli officials told Axios that Putin made a proposal to Zelensky that would be difficult to accept but doesn’t include regime change and allows Ukraine to keep its sovereignty. One Israeli official said Zelensky is now at a crossroads and has to choose whether to accept the deal and stop the war or reject it and risk a Russian escalation.