On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and Ukraine are close to reaching a deal on Kyiv’s neutrality, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said peace talks are beginning to sound “more realistic.”
“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees,” Lavrov told RBC. “Now this very thing is being discussed in negotiations – there are absolutely specific formulations which in my view are close to agreement.”
Ukrainian officials have said they’re open to discussing neutrality as long as Ukraine receives security guarantees from Russia as well as Western powers. Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said Wednesday that a potential plan for security guarantees was being discussed.
“Model of security guarantees is on the negotiating table. What does this mean? A rigid agreement with a number of guarantor states undertaking clear legal obligations to actively prevent attacks,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Also on Wednesday, Financial Times reported that Ukraine and Russia have made significant progress in recent negotiations and have drawn up a tentative 15-point peace plan. The report cited three unnamed people involved in the talks, who said the deal would involve Russian troops leaving Ukraine if Kyiv declares neutrality and accepts limits on its armed forces.
The report said under the proposed deal, Ukraine would renounce its plan to join NATO and promise not to host foreign military bases or weapons in exchange for protection from NATO allies, including the US and the UK. But the nature of the security guarantees is not clear, and defining them could be a stumbling block for a potential deal as Russia would likely not agree to the Western powers being obligated to defend Ukraine.
“There is no effective system of European security now, which would be moderated by NATO. As soon as a serious war began in Europe, Nato quickly stepped aside,” Podolyak told Financial Times. “We propose a ‘Ukrainian model of security guarantees,’ which implies the immediate and legally verified participation of a number of guarantor countries in the conflict on the side of Ukraine if someone again encroaches on its territorial integrity.”
Russia also wants Ukraine to recognize Crimea as Russian and recognize the independence of the breakaway Donbas republics. The Financial Times report said these issues are the “biggest sticking point” in the negotiations.
Podolyak said the issue of the recognition of Crimea and Donbas should be separated from the negotiations for a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal. “Disputed and conflict territories [are] in a separate case. So far, we are talking about a guaranteed withdrawal from the territories that have been occupied since the start of the military operation on February 24,” he said.
Since Russia launched its assault, Ukrainian and Russian delegations have met in person three times in Belarus. This week, the negotiators have been holding daily talks via video link. While the talks are ongoing, Zelensky is still urging the US to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would mean Washington going to war with Moscow.
At this point, there’s still no sign that the US is pushing for Ukraine and Russia to reach a deal to end the fighting. Instead, President Biden announced on Wednesday more weapons for Ukraine, and the US continues to ratchet up sanctions on Russia.