On November 7, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky published the preconditions under which his country is ready to launch negotiations with Russia.
In October, the president of Ukraine ruled out the possibility of negotiations as long as Vladimir Putin is the president of the Russian Federation.
In the new statement, Zelensky set forth five preconditions for Russia, including restoration of territorial integrity, respecting the UN Charter, reparation for all war damage, punishment for every war criminal, and guarantees that such actions will not happen again.
Fact Investigation Platform studied how the positions of both sides regarding the negotiations changed during the 9 months of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
The first stage of the war
The reasons for the war according to Vladimir Putin
In his February 24 speech on the start of the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the launch of a special military operation in Ukraine. He sharply blamed NATO of expanding towards the borders of Russia.
“Further expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance, military appropriation of Ukrainian territories is unacceptable for us.”
He noted that the purpose of the special operation was the protection of the people of Donbas, and for this Russia would aim at the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately made a speech stating that he tried to contact the Russian President.
“Today I initiated a phone talk with President Vladimir Putin. The result is silence, while the silence should be in Donbas.”
On the same day, the press spokesman of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, stated that Moscow was ready for negotiations with Ukraine, if the latter agreed to neutral status and also refused to deploy weapons on the territory of the country.
On the evening of February 24, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that he had a phone talk with Putin at the request of Volodymyr Zelensky conveying Ukraine’s demand to stop hostilities and the request to start negotiations.
On February 25, Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the NATO countries were not ready to accept Ukraine as part of the Union, and therefore he was ready to discuss the issue of Ukraine’s neutrality with Russia.
Later, in a video message, he called on Putin to start negotiations to prevent casualties and said he was ready to send a delegation to Minsk.
On the same day, Vladimir Putin stated in a talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping that, taking into account the signals coming from Kyiv, he was ready to send a delegation to Minsk.
On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that they would be ready for negotiations at the moment the armed forces of Ukraine stopped resistance and laid down their weapons.
On February 28, the representatives of Russia and Ukraine met on the border of Belarus and Ukraine. An agreement was reached on mutual cooperation between the Human Rights Defenders of the two countries on humanitarian issues. At the same time, it became known that the Ukrainian side had set conditions for further negotiations, that is, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of the country including Crimea and Donbass.
On March 3, another meeting was held at the border of Belarus. The parties agreed to provide humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, told reporters that the Ukrainian side did not get the results it had expected.
On March 3, Zelensky again spoke about his readiness to high-level negotiations.
During the invited press conference, Zelensky responded to the journalist’s question whether Ukraine was ready to provide guarantees to Russia:
“Guarantees for what? We are not attacking Russia and we are not going to. … Are we in NATO? No. Do we have nuclear weapons? No. What to give? … Leave our land! If you don’t want to leave now, sit with me at the negotiating table. I am free: Sit with me. But not at 30 meters distance, like with Macron, Scholz… sit down, talk to me, what are you afraid of?”
Մարտի 7-ին ՌԴ նախագահի մամուլի խոսնակ Դմիտրի Պեսկովը հրապարակեց այն պայմանները, որոնց կատարման դեպքում Ռուսաստանը պատրաստ կլինի անհապաղ դադարեցնել ռազմական գործողությունները Ուկրաինայում: Ըստ դրանց՝
On March 7, the spokesman of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, published the conditions under which Russia would be ready to immediately stop military operations in Ukraine. According to them, Ukraine should state in the Constitution that it has no intention to join any bloc, recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. “We are really finalizing the demilitarization of Ukraine. … But the main thing is that Ukraine stops its military operations. They should stop their military operations, no one will shoot then,” said Peskov.
On March 10, a meeting of the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia took place in Antalya with the mediation of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. As a result, both parties stated that no important decisions were made on matters of principle.
On March 29, the Ukrainian and Russian delegations met in Istanbul after which the Russian side declared that the Russian armed forces would reduce military operations in the regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv.
The Ukrainian side presented several proposals according to which the negotiations on the status of Crimea and Sevastopol would continue for 15 years, the parties should refuse to resolve the issue by military means. The issue of Donetsk and Luhansk should be discussed by the presidents of the two countries during an face-to-face meeting.
“Ukraine is ready to agree to the status of a non-nuclear country and a non-bloc country in the case of clear and rigid guarantees from a number of countries. This must be documented.
The previous paragraph (if an agreement is reached) actually provides that no foreign military bases and military contingents will be stationed on the territory of Ukraine.
Ukraine commits not to join any military-political alliance: international military exercises can be held on the territory of Ukraine only with the consent of the guarantor countries.”
Kyiv expected the agreement to be signed under international guarantees.
At the same time, the Ukrainians reported that a referendum should be held to accept these changes, for which the Russian side should first cease fire.
The Ukrainian delegation stated that the package of these and other proposals was conveyed to the Russian side and they were waiting for a response.
On the same day, the reputable international newspaper The Financial Times reported that Moscow no longer demanded the “denationalization” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, which Putin declared as one of the main goals of the special operation. Russia’s main demand at that time was Ukraine’s guarantee that it would not join NATO.
In April, Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region after which it was revealed that the Russian army had committed war crimes in previously occupied settlements. The most well-known example is Bucha where the Russian military carried out mass killings of civilians.
On April 4, Zelensky visited Bucha where he declared that no matter what, negotiations with Russia should continue since Ukraine must have peace. “We are in Europe in the 21st century. We will continue our efforts diplomatically and militarily.”
“The easiest position is to say let’s not speak to each other anymore, and the most difficult is to say what they did, to recognize them as an enemy, to admit that this is Russia’s war against Ukraine, that this is a genocide, and that they must be punished for that. And to find opportunities to meet with this position in mind. And in case of meeting, to find ways out of this situation. And at the same time, not lose our territory along the way. We have to set such a benchmark for ourselves in these negotiations…” Zelensky stated during a meeting with journalists on April 5 emphasizing that the Russian meetings may not be effective from a global perspective, but they help in solving the humanitarian issues.
On the same day, Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that they do not rule out the possibility of a meeting between the presidents of the two countries. “But we once again reiterate that such a meeting is possible only upon agreement on the text of the document.”
In an interview with the German BILD on April 9, Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukraine had to negotiate only with Vladimir Putin. “Today, Ukraine has no choice but to sit at the negotiating table. No one in Russia is capable of stopping this war except him. Only he (Putin — ed.) can decide when this war will end.”
On May 17, Mykhailo Podolyak reported that the negotiations had actually stopped. According to him, the reasons are several including the fact that Ukraine succeeded in resisting, and Russia did not achieve its goals. “The [Russian] political elite is afraid to tell the truth. In particular, that currently they have to go to war under different conditions than they declared before.”
On June 27, Dmitry Peskov spoke again about the negotiations. “ The Ukrainian side can end all this by the end of today, they just have to order nationalist subdivisions to lay down their arms, order the Ukrainian military to lay down their arms and fulfil the conditions set by the Russian Federation. All this can end by the end of today.”
On July 3, Peskov declared that Ukraine must agree to Moscow’s demands and sit at the negotiating table.
On July 7, Vladimir Putin declared that the Russian side did not refuse negotiations with Ukraine, but negotiations with Moscow would become increasingly difficult. “Everyone should know that, by and large, we haven’t started anything serious yet. At the same time, we do not refuse peace negotiations either. But those who refuse should know that it will be increasingly difficult for them to negotiate with us.”
In the summer, through the mediation of Turkey and the United Nations, the parties reached an agreement on the export of grain from Odessa ports.
On July 19, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba stated in an interview with Forbes that negotiations with Russia could only take place if Russia was defeated on the battlefield, because otherwise Moscow would continue to speak with ultimatums.
On July 30, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko noted that negotiations were becoming almost impossible because of the Ukrainian side, as the latter constantly declared that it would return to the negotiating table only after liberating Donbass.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive and negotiation rhetoric
Ukraine’s military achievements at the end of the summer and Vladimir Putin’s decision to hold a referendum on the annexation of four regions of Ukraine to Russia also affected the diplomatic rhetoric of the parties.
On August 8, Volodymyr Zelensky declared that if Russia held a referendum on annexation of the occupied regions to Russia, it would close all possibilities for negotiations.
On August 18, during Zelensky’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary General António Guterres in Ukraine the need for negotiations was highlighted. However, the President of Ukraine emphasized that the negotiations would only be possible if the Russian troops withdrew from the occupied territories of Ukraine.
On September 11, Sergey Lavrov stated that they were not avoiding negotiations. “We do not refuse negotiations, but those who refuse should understand that the longer they delay this process, the more difficult it will be to negotiate with us.”
On the same day, in an interview with CNN, Zelensky stated that he was not ready to negotiate with Russia at the moment, because he did not see a “willingness to be constructive” on its part. The President of Ukraine reiterated the statement that an agreement between the two countries could be signed only after Russia withdrew from the Ukrainian territories.
On September 21, Vladimir Putin stated that 4 regions of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporozhye – would initiate referendums on the inclusion in the Russian Federation, actually annexing these territories.
After annexing the 4 regions, Putin called on Kyiv to return to the negotiating table. However, he emphasized that the “people’s choice” would not be a topic of discussion.
On September 30, Volodymyr Zelensky declared that Ukraine had appealed to NATO to join the military alliance in an accelerated manner. In a video message, Zelensky stated that he was ready for negotiations with Russia, but with a different president. The impossibility of going to negotiations with Putin was recorded by the presidential decree on September 30.
However, on November 7, Zelensky specified the conditions under which they were ready to negotiate. These are: restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the UN Charter, reparations for all war damage, punishment for every war criminal, and guarantees that war will not happen again.
According to Politico, Zelenskiy changed his position following the intervention of US President Joe Biden.
On November 8, Andriy Rudenko stated that they did not set any preconditions for Ukraine to start negotiations. “There are no preconditions from our side, except for the main condition – the demonstration of good will by Ukraine.”
Return of Kherson to Kyiv control
On November 9, Russia declared its withdrawal from the city of Kherson. The city was occupied in the first weeks of the war.
On November 10, in an interview with CNN, Zelensky stated that he did not avoid negotiations with Moscow, although he had heard nothing from the current head of the Russian Federation but ultimatums. “But I didn’t close the door. I said that we are ready to talk with Russia, but with a different Russia. One who is truly ready for peace. One who is willing to accept that they are occupiers… They must return everything – land, right, freedom, money. And most importantly, justice.”
On November 11, Ukrainian troops appeared in the city of Kherson.
On November 14, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko stated that Russia was ready for negotiations with Ukraine but not on Kyiv’s preconditions. According to him, Russia did not plan to withdraw troops from the territory of Ukraine.
Speaking at the G-20 summit on November 15, Zelensky presented a 10-point peace resolution. That is: nuclear, food and energy security, release of all prisoners and residents of Ukraine transferred to Russian territory, restoration of territorial integrity of Ukraine, withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, restoration of justice, counteraction to ecocide, prevention of escalation, confirmation of the end of the war.
“Ukraine should not be offered to conclude compromises with its conscience, sovereignty, territory and independence… And if Russia says that it wants to end this war, let it prove it with actions. Apparently, one cannot trust Russia’s words, and there will be no Minsks-3, which Russia would violate immediately after signing,” added Zelensky.
In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Zelensky’s terms were unrealistic and inadequate, although unlike Kyiv, they were not refusing negotiations. Russia wants to see concrete evidence that “the West is seriously interested in bringing Zelensky to order and explaining to him that this cannot continue, that it is not in the interests of the Ukrainian people and himself.”
Dmitry Peskov stated that those statements of Zelensky speak of Kyiv’s lack of willingness to negotiate.
Already on November 16, the head of Ukraine added another demand. According to him, any issue related to negotiations to end the Ukrainian war should be discussed publicly.
On November 17, Peskov stated that no such thing could happen. “Public negotiations are hard to imagine at all. There are no public negotiations, especially public negotiations in this sphere.”
Thus, during the nine months of the war initiated by Russia on the territory of Ukraine, the parties, with the participation of the international community, are trying to negotiate with varied intensity, regularly changing the rhetoric in the process, tightening or softening the demands. However, diplomatic communications have not yet yielded significant results: the war continues.