Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Ukraine is prepared to adopt a neutral status in exchange for peace in their country. However, during the interview with independent journalists from Russia, he also said that such a move would require a referendum and has to be guaranteed by third parties.
“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelensky said during the 90-minute video call. “It was the main point for the Russian Federation as far as I can remember and, if I remember correctly, this is why they started the war.”
According to him, Ukraine’s main goal was to end the war as quickly as possible due to the sheer destruction and casualties it had caused on Ukrainian soil. Furthermore, he said that the neutrality clause was on the table provided that it would be discussed face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself to ensure that security guarantees are in place so that they could not attack Ukraine anymore. Furthermore, he said that a ceasefire and troop withdrawals were required for the peace deal.
“We have to come to an agreement with the President of the Russian Federation. But to reach an agreement, he has to get up from where he is and come and meet me,” he demanded.
“Guarantors will not sign anything if the [Russian] troops are in Ukraine. Why do I think this war can be finished quickly, and the only person that prolongs it is Putin and those who surround him?” Zelensky explained. “Because no guarantor… [British Prime Minister] Johnson, [President] Biden? Who will sit down for talks? Who will sit? [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan? Who will sit down for talks if the Russian troops are here? Who will sign anything? Nobody.”
In the same interview, Zelensky also ruled out trying to recapture Russian captured areas and territories by force, fearing that it would cause World War III. Instead, he wanted to reach a compromise on the situation, particularly in Russian-held Donbas, where the Russians previously said that they were to focus on the “complete liberation” of the region.
“I understand it’s impossible to force Russia completely from Ukrainian territory. It would lead to a Third World War,” he said. “I understand it, and that is why I am talking about a compromise. Go back to where it all began, and then we will try to solve the Donbas issue. The complicated Donbas issue,” Zelensky proposed.
Despite neutrality being on the table, he denied other Russian demands, such as the complete demilitarization of Ukraine due to security reasons. “We will not sit down behind the table if we talk about some kind of ‘demilitarization,’ some kind of ‘denazification.’ I simply do not get these things.”
When asked about whether Ukraine had nuclear or chemical weapons, he dismissed the allegations as a joke. They have given up their nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for a guarantee that Russia would not invade their territory. This agreement is known as the Budapest Memorandum, which stated that Ukraine would give up all its Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia, provided that Russia, the UK, and the US would respect their sovereignty. The pact was broken when the Russians decided to annex Crimea in 2014.
“It is a joke. There is nothing to say. There aren’t any. We do not have nuclear weapons. We do not have chemical or bio laboratories. We do not have chemical weapons. They do not exist.”
The proposal of Ukraine’s neutrality is not new, as it has always been one of Putin’s demands from Kyiv. It had been worried about its “security” due to it being surrounded by NATO countries on its western border.
It can be remembered that Zelensky had previously given up on joining the NATO alliance, seeking a dialogue with the Russians, and had accepted that Ukraine was not going to be accepted into NATO.
“Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine. The alliance is afraid of controversial things and confrontation with Russia,” he explained.
Despite this, NATO and the US continue to support Ukraine through military assistance packages and financial aid. The US tops the donor’s list as it had cleared over $13.6 billion for aid to Ukraine and another $800 million in munitions support to the country.
Just as recent as Biden’s visit to Brussels, world leaders agreed that they would be providing Ukraine with equipment to repel and protect itself from chemical and biological weapons through provision of gear. Biden also stated that the US would respond “in kind” if Russia were to use chemical and biological weapons in their war in Ukraine. However, he did not go into detail about this supposed response. Additionally, they have sanctioned over 400 Russian individuals and entities to cripple Russia’s economy further.
Russia’s Roskomnadzor, the country’s media watchdog, notified Russian media that Zelensky’s interview with Russian journalists was not to be published on their respective platforms and that it would review all media outlets and what they were to publish. Despite this, Meduza, a Russian media site blocked in Russia, published the interview.
It can be remembered that Putin clamped down on news and free speech in Russia in the first week of March as it had blocked access to Facebook and major foreign news outlets. A new law was also enacted that punishes anybody that was spreading “fake news” and “false information” about the Ukraine invasion. If violated, individuals could be punished with up to 15 years in prison.