Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested on Tuesday that he is willing to conduct peace talks with Russia while sticking to Kyiv's core demands, in a move that softens his refusal to negotiate with Moscow as long as President Vladimir Putin is in power.
There was a change in the Ukrainian president's rhetoric as he appealed to the international community to “force Russia into real peace talks”.
After Russia illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions in September, Mr Zelenskyy signed a decree stating “the impossibility of holding talks” with Mr Putin.
However, it is unlikely Mr Zelenskyy's latest remarks will advance any talks, as the conditions he set will be non-starters for Moscow.
Mr Zelenskyy reiterated that his conditions for dialogue were the return of all of Ukraine’s occupied lands, compensation for war damage and the prosecution of war crimes. He did not specify how world leaders should coerce Russia into talks.
Western weapons and aid have been key to Ukraine’s ability to fight off Russia’s invasion, which some initially expected would tear through the country with relative ease.
This means Kyiv cannot ignore how the war is seen in the US and the European Union, said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
Antonov AN-225 destroyed by Russia in Ukraine — in pictures
“Zelenskyy is trying to manoeuvre because the promise of negotiations does not oblige Kyiv to anything, but it makes it possible to maintain the support of western partners,” said Mr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Centre independent think tank.
“A categorical refusal to hold talks plays into the Kremlin’s hands, so Zelenskyy is changing the tactics and talks about the possibility of a dialogue, but on conditions that make it all very clear.”
Russia and Ukraine held several rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey early in the war, which is now nearing its nine-month mark, and Mr Zelenskyy repeatedly called for a personal meeting with Mr Putin — which the Kremlin brushed off.
The talks stalled after the last meeting of the delegations, held in Istanbul in March, yielded no results.
Mr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Kyiv has “repeatedly proposed [talks] and to which we always received crazy Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail”.
Ukraine war latest — in pictures
Russia resumed calls for talks after it started losing ground to a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east and south in September.
Mr Zelenskyy rejected the possibility of negotiating with Mr Putin later that month after the Russian leader illegally claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory.
The Ukrainian president said on Monday that his country's conditions for dialogue included the “restoration of [Ukraine’s] territorial integrity … compensation for all war damage, punishment for every war criminal and guarantees that it will not happen again”.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, said on Tuesday that Moscow was not setting any conditions for the resumption of talks. He accused Kyiv of lacking “good will”.
“This is their choice. We have always declared our readiness for such negotiations,” Mr Rudenko said.
Putin's inner circle — in pictures
Mr Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that the US is preventing Ukraine from engaging in peace talks, which several countries have offered to mediate.
In an interview released on Tuesday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said western countries would not push Kyiv to negotiate on Moscow’s terms.
“Ukraine is receiving rather effective weapons from its partners, first and foremost the US,” Mr Podolyak said.
“We’re pushing the Russian army out of our territory. And given that, it’s nonsense to force us to negotiate, and de facto to concede to Russia’s ultimatum! No one will do that.”