Putin demands more Ukrainian land to end war; Kyiv rejects 'ultimatum'


  • World
  • Friday, 14 Jun 2024

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the leadership of the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow, Russia June 14, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow, demands Kyiv swiftly rejected as tantamount to surrender.

On the eve of a conference in Switzerland to which Russia has not been invited, Putin set out maximalist conditions at odds with the terms demanded by Ukraine, apparently reflecting Moscow's growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine's demilitarisation, unchanged from the day he sent in his troops on Feb. 24, 2022, and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal.

He also repeated his call for Ukraine's "denazification", based on what Kyiv calls an slur against its leadership.

Ukraine said the conditions were "absurd".

"He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Italy's SkyTG24 news channel that Putin's comments amounted to an ultimatum, carefully timed to appear just before the Swiss summit.

"It is clear he (Putin) understands that there will be the peace summit. It is clear he understands the majority in the world are on Ukraine's side, on the side of life," he said.

"And on the eve of the summit, amid air raid sirens, the killing of people and missile attacks, he speaks as though he is issuing some sort of ultimatum."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels: "He (Putin) is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about peace."

The timing of Putin's speech was clearly intended to preempt the Swiss summit, billed as a "peace conference" despite Russia's exclusion, where Zelenskiy seeks a show of international support for Kyiv's terms to end the war.

'VERY SIMPLE' CONDITIONS

"The conditions are very simple," Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia claimed the four regions, which its forces control only partially, as part of its own territory in 2022, an act rejected by most countries at the United Nations as illegal.

Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

"As soon as they declare in Kyiv that they are ready for such a decision and begin a real withdrawal of troops from these regions, and also officially announce the abandonment of their plans to join NATO - on our side, immediately, literally at the same minute, an order will follow to cease fire and begin negotiations," Putin said.

"I repeat, we will do this immediately. Naturally, we will simultaneously guarantee the unhindered and safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units and formations."

Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory in the third year of the war. Ukraine says peace must be based on the full withdrawal of Russian forces and the restoration of its 1991 post-Soviet borders.

The weekend summit in Switzerland, which will be attended by representatives of more than 90 nations and organisations, is expected to shy away from territorial issues and focus instead on matters such as food security and nuclear safety in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has said the gathering will prove "futile" without Russia being represented.

Putin's conditions appeared to reflect his growing confidence in Moscow's ability to impose its own terms as its forces have gradually advanced in recent months.

Putin said "the future existence of Ukraine" depended on it withdrawing its forces, adopting a neutral status, and beginning talks with Russia. Kyiv's military situation, he said, would worsen if it rejected the offer.

"Today we are making another concrete, real peace proposal. If in Kyiv and in the Western capitals they refuse it as before, then, in the end, it is their business, their political and moral responsibility for the continuation of bloodshed," he said.

Ukraine and its Western allies describe the conflict as an imperial-style war of territorial conquest. Ukraine says any demand for its demilitarisation or future neutrality would expose it to further Russian attacks.

Putin was speaking in the same week that the United States hit Russia with more sanctions, announced a 10-year security pact with Ukraine - seen as a potential precursor to eventual NATO membership - and reached a deal with its Group of Seven allies to use interest on Russian assets frozen in the West to back a $50 billion loan to Kyiv.

(Additional reporting by Max Hunder in Kyiv, Alvise Armellini in Rome and Gianluca Semeraro in Milan; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan, Ron Popeski and Alex Richardson)

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