Moscow: A deal with Kyiv on “neutral status” for Ukraine as part of a peace agreement could be close, Russia’s foreign minister has said, as Ukrainian forces launched a wave of counterattacks against Russian forces.
Sergei Lavrov suggested in a media interview that talks with Kyiv were making ground despite the continued bloodshed, echoing cautiously optimistic comments overnight from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“The negotiations are not easy for obvious reasons,” Lavrov told RBC news. “But nevertheless, there is some hope of reaching a compromise.
“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed seriously along, of course, with security guarantees. This is what is now being discussed at the talks. There are absolutely specific wordings and in my view, the sides are close to agreeing on them.”
In a video address in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Zelenskiy had also said he believed there was possible room for compromise.
“The meetings continue and, I am informed, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic. But time is still needed for the decisions to be in the interests of Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “Efforts are still needed, patience is needed. Any war ends with an agreement.”
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy had appeared to offer the Kremlin an olive branch by saying that Ukraine would not be joining Nato.
Moscow’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said his delegation in the talks with representatives from Kyiv was seeking for Ukraine to assume a status comparable to Sweden or Austria, two EU member states that are not members of the Nato military alliance.
The proposal was also confirmed by the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday morning.
Medinsky told reporters on Wednesday that talks were “slow and difficult” but claimed that the Kremlin wanted peace “as soon as possible”.
He added that other issues were being discussed, including the status of the Crimean peninsula, annexed illegally by Russia in 2014, as well as the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who is directly involved in the talks with Medinsky, responded by saying that “the words about the Swedish or Austrian model of neutrality” failed to reflect the need for Ukraine to have guarantees over its security.
He said: “Ukraine is now in a state of direct war with Russia. Therefore, the model can only be Ukrainian and only about legally verified security guarantees. And no other models or options.”
Podolyak said a key part of any deal would be agreed by the west that they would come to Ukraine’s aid in the event of any future conflict with Russia and that there would be no hesitation in imposing a ‘no-fly zone’.
The promising development was nevertheless welcomed in Brussels, where Nato defence ministers were meeting in person for the first time since the war began on 24 February but suggestions of a peacekeeping force being deployed were rebuffed.
During a visit to Kyiv by the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic on Tuesday, the Polish deputy premier, Jarosław Kaczyński, had suggested that such a deployment to Ukraine could provide humanitarian aid.