Moscow, Apr 26: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Moscow still hopes to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Ukraine, even as the fighting has continued.
Speaking at a Kremlin meeting Tuesday with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Putin noted that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators made what he described as a “serious breakthrough” in their talks in Istanbul, Turkey, last month. He claimed, however, that the Ukrainian side later walked back on some of the tentative agreements reached in Istanbul.
In particular, Putin said Ukrainian negotiators have changed their position on the issue of the status of Crimea and separatist territories in eastern Ukraine, offering to leave it for the countries’ presidents to discuss. Putin charged that the shift in the Ukrainian stand makes it hard to negotiate a future deal.
Putin has demanded that Ukraine recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and recognize independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as part of a future agreement on ending the hostilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that those issues could only be decided by a future nationwide vote.
During Tuesday’s Kremlin meeting, Guterres criticized Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbor’s territorial integrity. He also urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped at a giant steel mill in Mariupol surrounded by the Russian forces.
Putin responded by claiming that the Russian forces have offered humanitarian corridors to civilians holed up at the Azovstal steel plant, charging that the Ukrainian defenders of the plant were using civilians as shields and not allowing them to leave.