Ukraine and Russia have made significant progress on a 15-point interim peace plan, including a ceasefire and Russia’s withdrawal if Kyiv declares neutrality and accepts restrictions on its armed forces, according to three people involved in the talks.
The proposed deal, detailed by the Financial Times, was fully discussed by Ukrainian and Russian negotiators for the first time on Monday, and would involve Kyiv giving up its ambitions to join NATO and pledging not to host foreign military bases or weapons in exchange for protection from the West.
Terms of Agreement
Although Moscow and Kiev said on Wednesday that they had made progress on the terms of the agreement, Ukrainian officials remain skeptical that Russian President Vladimir Putin is fully committed to peace and fear that Moscow will buy time to regroup its forces and resume its offensive.
Any deal would include “in any case the forces of the Russian Federation leave the territory of Ukraine” captured since the start of the invasion on February 24, as well as the southern regions along the Azov and Black Sea, Mikhailo Podolak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Financial Times. The lands located to the east and north of Kyiv.
Ukraine will keep its armed forces, but it will have to stay out of military alliances such as NATO and refrain from hosting foreign military bases on its soil.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Wednesday that Ukraine’s neutrality on the basis of a situation similar to Austria or Sweden was a possibility. “This option is already being discussed and can be considered neutral,” Peskov added.
For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the “perfectly defined formulas” were “close to agreement” in the negotiations.
Despite progress in peace talks, Ukrainian cities were bombed for the third consecutive day while Kyiv said it was launching a counterattack against Russian invaders.
In a hypothetical address to members of Congress on Wednesday, Zelensky appealed to the United States to impose a no-fly zone, provide combat aircraft or other means to fend off Russia’s attack on his country, and impose tougher economic sanctions on Moscow.
In a dramatic appeal, Zelensky said Ukraine needed America’s support after Russia launched a “brutal attack on our values”. He called on Americans to remember the attacks on Pearl Harbor and September 2001, and showed a moving video of the missile attacks and bombings that devastated Ukrainian cities.
Although Ukraine’s constitution obliges it to seek NATO membership, Zelensky and his aides have increasingly played down Ukraine’s chances of joining the transatlantic military alliance, a prospect Russia considers a provocation.
Two of the sources said the supposed deal also included provisions on enshrinement of Russian language rights in Ukraine, where it is widely spoken even though Ukrainian is the only official language.
Russia has framed its invasion as an attempt to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine from what it claims was “genocide” by “neo-Nazis”.
The biggest sticking point remains Russia’s demand that Ukraine recognize its 2014 annexation of Crimea and the independence of two breakaway states in the eastern border region of Donbass.
Sources said Ukraine has so far refused to discuss it but is ready to split the issue.
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