Putin Demands Ukraine Abandon 4 Regions for Peace Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

(Bloomberg News/TNS) — Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Ukraine to withdraw from four eastern regions partially occupied by his forces as a condition of peace talks, ahead of a Kyiv-backed conference on the war to which Moscow hasn’t been invited. 

Putin said Ukrainian forces should pull out from the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of the country in return for a cease-fire by Russian troops. He also demanded Ukraine give up its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in a broadcast speech before Foreign Ministry officials on Friday. 

Putin’s statement came on the eve of a Swiss-hosted peace conference aimed at promoting Ukrainian demands for a Russian withdrawal from its territory. His offer amounted to a call for Ukraine to surrender its territories in return for peace talks, something Kyiv has consistently rejected since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

“As soon as they declare in Kyiv that they are ready for such a decision and begin the real withdrawal of troops from these regions, and also officially notify about the abandonment of plans to join NATO, our side will immediately, literally at the same minute, follow the order to cease fire and start negotiations,” Putin said.

The government in Kyiv has refused to negotiate with Russia until the Kremlin leaves the occupied territories, saying Moscow will re-group and attack Ukraine again if the current war is frozen.

“This is an attempt to dictate the terms for an end to the war,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political consultancy R.Politik. Putin’s proposals “don’t involve any concessions from Russia at all. It’s undoubtedly timed to coincide with the peace conference in Switzerland,” she said.

Putin said Ukraine must recognize the four regions and Crimea, which he annexed in 2014, as Russian territory and Kyiv’s neutral status needs to be cemented under international law. 

He also laid out a new condition for a peace deal, saying it “presupposes” the lifting of all international sanctions against Russia.

Putin made that demand after a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven nations agreed on a plan to tap the profits from roughly $280 billion in frozen Russian sovereign assets to provide Ukraine with about $50 billion in fresh aid. The U.S. also slapped additional sanctions on Russia on Wednesday that forced the Moscow Exchange to halt trading in U.S. dollars and the euro. 

The Russian leader declared the four regions to be “forever” part of Russia after announcing in September 2022 that he was annexing them, even as his forces still don’t fully control those territories. Before Putin ordered the invasion, he demanded that Ukraine abandon its ambition of joining NATO and agree to a neutral demilitarized status.

He presented the terms on Friday as a new initiative for the beginning of negotiations. 

“If Kyiv and Western capitals refuse it like they did in the past — that’s their decision,” Putin said. “It’s clear the situation on the front line will continue to change and not in the Kyiv regime’s favor.”

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