Ukraine’s government is willing to consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia, including keeping the country nuclear-free, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.
Speaking to independent Russian journalists on Sunday, he said that the issue of neutrality and agreeing to stay out of NATO should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw.
He added that a vote could happen within months after Russian troops leave the country – prompting the Kremlin to quickly ban the interview from being published.
Roskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, claimed it had issued the ban because there could be action taken against the Russian-based media outlets that took part, which included “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents”.
In response, Mr Zelenskyy said Moscow was afraid of a relatively short conversation with journalists.
“It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said, the Ukrainian news agency RBK Ukraina quoted him as saying.
On Monday, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that a meeting between Mr Zelenskyy and Vladimir Putin to exchange views now would be “counter-productive” and should happen when the two countries are “close to agreeing on key issues”.
‘Sovereignty and territorial integrity’
In his nightly address on Sunday, Mr Zelenskyy told his nation that Ukraine’s priorities at the talks with Russia in Turkey this week will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“We are looking for peace, really, without delay,” he said. “There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey. This is not bad. Let’s see the outcome.”
This week, he said he would “continue to appeal to the parliaments of other countries” to remind them of the dire situation in besieged cities like Mariupol.
He thanked Ukraine’s armed forces, who he said “are holding back the occupiers, and in some areas, they are even taking steps forward. Well done”.
Mr Zelenskyy accused the West of cowardice on Sunday and made an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to help defend his country from Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Meanwhile, another top official said Russia was trying to split the nation in two, like North and South Korea.
Russia has claimed its main focus has shifted to taking control of the eastern Donbas region, an apparent pullback from its initial more ambitious goals, but one which is raising fears of a divided Ukraine.
Biden denies call for Russian regime change
It comes as US President Joe Biden denied that he was calling for regime change when he said that Mr Putin “cannot remain in power”.
In a charged speech in Poland on Saturday, Mr Biden built on earlier remarks in which he called Mr Putin a “butcher”, describing him as “a dictator” and saying stopping the war in Ukraine is “the task of our time”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also reiterated that neither NATO nor Mr Biden aims to bring about regime change in Russia.
On whether Mr Putin’s removal is in fact the real aim, Mr Scholz said on Sunday: “This is not the aim of NATO, and also not that of the American president.”
He added: “We both agree completely that regime change is not an object and aim of policy that we pursue together.”