Zelensky: I'm willing to negotiate on Crimea and Donbas -- but only in a collective-security agreement with the West

Zelensky: I'm willing to negotiate on Crimea and Donbas -- but only in a collective-security agreement with the West

How serious is this bid from Volodymyr Zelensky? On one level, probably deadly serious, literally. However, the Ukrainian president leading a stirring defense against the Russian invasion almost certainly knows that Vladimir Putin will never accept any peace that leaves him in place and a sovereign, independent Ukraine still standing.

It doesn’t hurt to make that as obvious as possible, however:

According to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the future Ukraine must have a collective security agreement with all its neighbors and with the participation of the world’s leading countries – the United States, France, Germany and Turkey, with which our country borders in the Black Sea.

“These will be guarantees not only for Ukraine. These will be guarantees for Russia as well, about which it is constantly talking. Although I don’t know who it is protecting itself from. Because Ukraine has never attacked anyone, it only conducted defensive actions. Because it protects the last thing we have – the family and the land,” the President stressed.

As for the demands put forward by the Russian authorities, in particular regarding the recognition of the independence of the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Head of State noted that a compromise is possible on this point.

“It is important to me how people who want to be part of Ukraine will live there. I am interested in the opinion of those who see themselves as citizens of the Russian Federation. However, we must discuss this issue. As well as compromises on Crimea. We cannot recognize that Crimea is the territory of Russia. I think it will be difficult for Russia to recognize that this is the territory of Ukraine. I think we are smart enough to ensure that the decision on these two issues does not cause any revolutions within societies, so that people are satisfied with this decision: both those who live in those territories and those who live in Ukraine,” said Volodymyr Zelenskyy and added that before the occupation these territories were part of Ukraine.

To some extent, that would give Putin more or less what he wanted, or more precisely, what he grabbed prior to this invasion. Russia imposed a de facto partition on the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in 2014 and seized and annexed Crimea outright. If Ukraine recognized that as part of a settlement of the war, it would allow Russia to ask for sanctions to be rolled back that resulted from their earlier invasion as well as the far more devastating sanctions imposed over the past two weeks.

But that won’t satisfy Putin, because Putin has already lost too much to settle for a formal status quo ante. Thousands of Russian boys won’t come home to parents and spouses. Putin’s military has been humiliated. Oligarchs have lost control of billions of dollars of their wealth and have become international pariahs. And perhaps most damaging of all, Ukraine’s national identity has become even stronger, disproving Putin’s assertion that it doesn’t exist at all. Now that Ukraine has proven it can contend militarily against Russia, a united Ukraine has become an even greater danger to his survival than ever before.

Zelensky’s offer forces Putin to reveal his bad position. If he accepts, Russians will wonder what they got out of his war except thousands of dead soldiers and a Ukraine with new Western guarantees of security. If he doesn’t accept it, Putin runs the risk of losing those 2014 gains as Ukrainian resistance begins to spread into the Donbas. A refusal to negotiate will also encourage the West to scale sanctions up even further, and will also prompt NATO to send more troops and resources to their eastern frontiers. Putin will wind up with a long line of first-rate military units across from his disastrously bad and crumbling military, in a far worse security position for Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed.

Zelensky would probably have trouble selling this deal at home by now, though. The war has created so much bitterness between Ukrainians and Russians that the former might prefer to fight it out to the end rather than accept any concessions to the invader. Mediate caught this conversation on Newsmax yesterday, in which a member of Parliament refuses to cede an inch of Ukraine to the Russians:

Newsmax host Eric Bolling asked MP Alexey Goncharenko about those demands.

“What are your thoughts as a member of parliament?” he queried.

“I want to say some bad words,” Goncharenko replied. “Blank you, Putin, you know? I don’t know how to say this is–not to offend your viewers. I just want to say to Putin… what our soldiers told to his Russian military ship. I’m sorry, go fuck yourself with all this.”

Goncharenko said Putin’s offer is in bad faith and is part of a plan to gradually subsume Ukraine into Russia.

“In half [a] year he will start another war and say, ‘I want another part of Ukraine, then another part of Ukraine.’ We will never accept this. This is our territory. Crimea is Ukraine. Donbas is Ukraine, and he’s the aggressor, and he cannot demand from us anything.”

He added, “We are winning the war and we are not going to surrender in any way.”

They’re not winning the war, but they’re also not losing it at the moment. That’s remarkable in itself, given the perceived disparity between the two nations at the start of the war. The longer that Ukraine goes without losing the war, the more Putin risks in continuing it. Putin has no good options left, and even this off-ramp might prove Putin’s undoing at home — one way or the other.

Watch the full ABC News interview with Zelensky below. He’s soured on his Western friends, to be sure, but he’s smart enough to know not to trust Putin alone on security guarantees. That would be signing his own death warrant, along with his country’s.

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