Ukraine denied on Tuesday that it was under Western pressure to negotiate with Russia, doubling down on its insistence that talks could be held only if Russia relinquishes all of the territory it has occupied since its invasion in February.
The remarks by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky followed a Washington Post report on Saturday that the United States had encouraged Ukraine to signal willingness for talks. Zelensky’s comments also coincided with U.S. midterm elections whose outcome could test Western support for Ukraine.
In an overnight address before he was due to address world leaders at a climate summit, Zelensky recited what he called Ukraine’s “completely understandable conditions” for peace talks.
“Once again – restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the U.N. Charter, compensation for all damages caused by the war, punishment of every war criminal and guarantees that this will not happen again.”
Ukraine had repeatedly proposed such talks, but “we always received insane Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail,” Zelensky said.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated Moscow’s position that it is open to talks but that Kyiv was refusing them. Moscow has said it will not negotiate over territory it claims to have annexed from its neighbour Ukraine.
Zelensky’s senior adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it was absurd to suggest that Western countries would push Kyiv to negotiate on Moscow’s terms, as they were the ones supplying Ukraine with the weapons to drive Russian forces off its land.
He said there was “no coercion” in Kyiv’s relationship with Washington, and suggestions the West was pushing Ukraine to negotiate were part of Russia’s “information programme,” though he did not directly rebut the Washington Post report.
Since Russia announced the annexation of Ukrainian territory at the end of September, Zelensky has said that Kyiv would never negotiate as long as Vladimir Putin was Russian president.
MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS
Separately, Zelensky called on Tuesday for an extension to the Black Sea grain export deal that lifted a Russian blockade of three major Ukrainian ports and eased a global food crisis.
The accord, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July, expires on Nov. 19 and looked in jeopardy last month when Russia briefly suspended its participation before rejoining it.
“We maintain the line that the initiative must continue regardless of whether the Russian Federation is willing,” Zelensky told Washington’s United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in Kyiv.
Alluding to his country’s status as one of the world’s top grain producers, he added on the Telegram messaging app: “Ukraine is ready to remain the guarantor of world food security.”
Ukraine also wants the grain export deal expanded to include more ports and goods and hopes a decision to renew the pact for at least a year will be taken next week, the deputy infrastructure minister said in a Reuters interview.
Russian forces are kept at bay in Ukraine’s eastern frontline city of Avdiivka, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Russian forces are losing ‘hundreds’ of soldiers a day on the Donetsk front.
Ukrainian forces have been on the offensive in recent months, while Russia is regrouping to defend areas of Ukraine it still occupies, having called up hundreds of thousands of reservists over the past month.
Russia has been evacuating civilians from occupied areas, especially from southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, in an operation Kyiv says includes forced deportations, a war crime. Moscow says it is taking people to safety.
On Tuesday night, a Ukrainian military statement accused Russian troops of continuing to loot and destroy infrastructure in Kherson, where a showdown has been looming for weeks in the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion.
“On 7th November, a convoy of trucks passed over the dam of the Kakhova hydroelectric station loaded with home appliances and building materials,” the statement said.
Russian forces were dismantling mobile phone towers and taking away equipment, it said.
In an area near the city of Beryslav, Russian forces “blew up a power line and took equipment from a solar power station.”
In Kherson city, it said Russian troops removed exhibits, furniture and equipment from a museum devoted to artist Oleksiy Shovkunenko, known for his paintings of portraits and landscapes.
Russian artillery hit more than 30 settlements in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, and in Zaporizhzhia region the Russian-installed authorities were forcing residents to accept Russian passports after seizing their Ukrainian documents, the statement said.
Reuters was not able to verify the Ukrainian reports.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Russia was preparing new fortified lines deep inside territory it controls “to forestall any rapid Ukrainian advances in the event of breakthroughs.”
This involved installing concrete barriers known as “dragon’s teeth” to stop tanks, including near Mariupol in the south to help safeguard Russia’s “land bridge” to occupied Crimea even if Moscow loses other territory.
Meanwhile, most candidates in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, Democrats and Republicans, support Ukraine. But some right-wing Republicans have criticized the cost of military aid.
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, U.S. support for Ukraine would be “unflinching and unwavering,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.