David Arakhamia, a high-ranking member of Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People political party, said that Kyiv could have ended the war with Russia after a month if it agreed not to join NATO. The official said that Moscow was not concerned about other issues, such as “denazification,” but only wanted Kyiv to agree to neutrality.
In an interview with TV channel 1+1, a Ukrainian network, Arakhamia confirmed previous reporting that Moscow and Kyiv had nearly agreed to end the war in March 2022. Still, Ukraine’s Western backers pushed it to try to win the war against Russia. “They really hoped almost to the last moment that they would force us to sign such an agreement so that we would take neutrality,” Arakhamia said.” It was the most important thing for them. They were prepared to end the war if we agreed to – as Finland once did – neutrality, and committed that we would not join NATO.”
Arakhamia, who led the Ukrainian negotiation team, said that other issues, such as the protection of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the “denazification” of the government in Kyiv, were less important to Moscow. “In fact, [neutrality] was the key point.” He continued, “Everything else was simply rhetoric and political ‘seasoning’ about denazification, the Russian-speaking population and blah-blah-blah.”
The high-ranking official explained that Kyiv was unlikely to accept Putin’s offer during the talks in Istanbul because the Ukrainian leadership did not believe Russia could be trusted. However, he went on to say that then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cemented Kyiv on the path of fighting a long war with Russia. “[The deal] could only be done if there were security guarantees. We could not sign something, step away, everyone would relax there, and then they would [invade] even more prepared – because they have, in fact, gone in unprepared for such a resistance, Arakhamia said. “Moreover, when we returned from Istanbul, Boris Johnson came to Kyiv and said that we would not sign anything with them at all, and let’s just fight.”
Arakhamia explained that while Kyiv’s Western backers did not discourage talks, they advised against accepting a deal. “They actually advised us not to go into ephemeral security guarantees, which could not have been given at that time at all,” he stated during the interview.
The statements in the interview by Arakhamia confirm several reports from other officials – Russian, Turkish, and American – that a deal was offered by the Kremlin in the early days of the war to withdraw Russian forces to the prewar lines in exchange for Kyiv’s vow to never join NATO.
Now, after 20 months of war, Ukraine’s Western backers are discussing Kyiv’s opening dialogue with Moscow. Since the talks in the early months of the conflict, Russia has annexed four regions of Ukraine, suggesting Moscow is likely to demand more territorial concessions than what was once on the table for Kyiv.