Zelensky Says War Cannot End Without Negotiations, Offers Talks If POWs Are Unharmed

Appearing to contradict the president, a member of Ukraine’s negotiation team claimed diplomacy, before a Russian withdrawal, would backfire

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the war in his country could only end at the negotiating table, and signaled talks with Russia could begin soon. However, an adviser to Zelensky said diplomacy was counterproductive for Kiev.

During a Ukrainian television appearance on Saturday, Zelensky laid out a path to resolve the war by talking with Russia. "There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table." He added, the war "will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy."

Zelensky was vague about the potential talks but indicated they could occur at the highest level. "Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly take place…Under what format I don’t know – with intermediaries, without them, in a broader group, at the presidential level," the leader said. He conditioned the talks on the good treatment of captured Ukrainian cities and POWs.

Dialogue between Kiev and Moscow has been on hold for a month. The Kremlin blames Ukraine for the lack of diplomatic progress. Last week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko claimed Kiev has not responded to Moscow’s proposals and left the negotiation table. “No, negotiations are not taking place. Ukraine has actually withdrawn from the negotiation process,” Rudenko said.

While Zelensky was offering a new round of diplomacy, a top adviser and member of the negotiation team threw cold water on the idea. Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak argued making compromises with Russia would backfire. “The war will not stop (after any concessions). It will just be put on pause for some time. After a while, with renewed intensity, the Russians will build up their weapons, manpower…And they’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large-scale,” he told Reuters on Saturday.

Directly contradicting Zelensky, he said talks would not begin until Russian forces completely withdrew from Ukraine. Podolyak said, “The (Russian) forces must leave the country and after that the resumption of the peace process will be possible."

Several NATO states have discouraged Ukraine from making an agreement with Russia. During his visit to Kiev, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructed Zelensky not to negotiate with Russia. Johnson "urged against any negotiations with Russia on terms that gave credence to the Kremlin’s false narrative for the invasion but stressed that this was a decision for the Ukrainian government," according to Johnson’s office.

Washington has also abandoned the diplomatic path with Moscow. Since President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The US has shipped billions in increasingly advanced military equipment to Kiev.

Kyle Anzalone is the opinion editor of Antiwar.com, news editor of the Libertarian Institute, and co-host of Conflicts of Interest.