Zelenskyy Makes Key Demand for Face-to-Face Meeting With Putin

Zelenskyy Makes Key Demand for Face-to-Face Meeting With Putin
(L) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on March 20, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP); (R) Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 18, 2022. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to meet him face-to-face in order to reach an agreement to end the war.

During remarks that were published by Russian media outlets, Zelenskyy appeared to suggest that Putin needs to come and meet with him in a location outside of Russia.

"We must come to an agreement with the president of the Russian Federation, and in order to reach an agreement, he needs to get out of there on his own feet ... and come to meet me," he said, according to an Associated Press translation of his comments.

While Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have held several rounds of talks, there have been few results.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine not join the NATO military alliance, which Moscow views as a threat to its sovereignty. Zelenskyy said on Monday that the question of neutrality should be decided by Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russia withdraws its forces.

In response to the proposal for talks, Russian officials said that talks are welcome but stressed that no outside Western mediators be present.

“We’re ready to give diplomacy a chance. That’s why we agreed to the talks, which are resuming in Istanbul,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said during a video conference on Monday, according to state-run media.

Lavrov stipulated there have been "many examples" of incidents when diplomacy was "shattered by Western colleagues," adding that "they can't be trusted anymore."

“I wouldn’t want to see any shuttle diplomacy from our Western partners, because they’ve already done their ‘shuttling’–in February 2014 in Ukraine and in February 2015 in Minsk,” he added.

Zelenskyy also said overnight that Ukraine sought peace “without delay” in talks due to get underway in Istanbul. That location was agreed upon after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, the Turkish leader’s office said. Negotiators are expected to arrive Monday.

Since the start of the conflict on Feb. 24, Western countries have issued punishing sanctions against Russia's economy, targeting top officials and payment systems. As a result, Putin and other officials said that certain countries will have to pay for natural gas and oil in rubles, the Russian currency.

Germany’s energy agency said Monday that the Group of Seven major economies rejected that demand. Robert Habeck, the energy minister, told reporters that “all G-7 ministers agreed completely that this (would be) a one-sided and clear breach of the existing contracts.”

At the same time, Western officials have repeatedly said that Russia's offensive across Ukraine, including around the capital of Kyiv, appears to be stalled with few advances. As a tactic, Russian forces have hit Ukrainian military assets and cities with artillery and missile strikes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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