Ukrainian officials have said negotiations with Russia could end over the military situation in the southeastern city of Mariupol, which has been under siege for about seven weeks.
“The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol — what they are doing now — can put an end to any format of negotiations. I think it is their big mistake to say that they really want to end the war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday.
Russia said Saturday that it had cleared all urban areas in Mariupol, but Ukrainian soldiers are holding out at the Azovstal iron and steelworks plant. The Russian Defense Ministry said if the Ukrainian troops in Mariupol surrendered by 1 PM local time on Sunday, their lives would be spared, but the deadline was rejected by Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned on Sunday that the situation in Mariupol could be a “red line” for the negotiations with Moscow and said there had not been any recent high-level communication between Russia and Ukraine. “We didn’t really have any contacts with Russian diplomats in recent weeks at the level of foreign ministries,” he said.
“The only level of contact is the negotiating team that consists of the representatives of various institutions and members of parliament. They continue their consultations at the expert level but no high-level talks are taking place,” Kuleba added.
Some of Russia’s key demands for a potential peace deal include Ukraine recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and recognizing the independence of the breakaway Donbas republics. In an interview that aired Sunday, Zelensky reaffirmed his position that he is not willing to cede any territory.
“Ukraine and the people of our states are absolutely clear: We don’t want anyone else’s territory and we are not going to give up our own,” Zelensky said. “We cannot give up our territory, but we must find at least some dialogue with Russia if they are capable and if we are still ready. But the chances of this are growing less by the day.”
Russia also wants Ukraine to give a guarantee that it won’t ever join NATO. In a draft peace deal put forward by Kyiv, Ukraine would drop its bid to join the Western military alliance but is asking for security guarantees from NATO countries, which is likely a non-starter for Moscow.
The US and most of its NATO allies have shown little interest in pushing for a diplomatic solution. Instead, they are pouring weapons into the country and imposing sanctions aimed at isolating the Russian economy.