Kiev could have stopped the conflict in April 2022 by recognizing the independence of two Donbass republics and Crimea as Russian territory, the head of Moscow’s negotiating team, Vladimir Medinsky, said on Tuesday.
The former culture minister led the Russian delegation at the Istanbul talks, where he said Ukraine “missed the opportunity” to end the war and save “hundreds of thousands of lives” of its soldiers.
“Among our non-negotiable demands were the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the recognition of the independence of the Donbass republics,” Medinsky told Russian news agencies. He added that Moscow also had “a long list of humanitarian demands” pertaining to the “protection of the Russian-speaking population of Donbass.”
He insisted that “Russia never set itself the goal of conquering Ukraine,” and that the chief objective of its military operation was the protection of Russian-speaking civilians. Advised by the West, however, “[Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky chose war,” said Medinsky.
The head of the Ukrainian delegation at the Istanbul talks, David Arakhamia, previously confirmed the long-circulating rumors that the conflict could have ended after just two months, had Kiev accepted Moscow’s demand for neutrality.
“This was the main thing for them: They were ready to end the war if we accepted neutrality, like Finland once did. And we would make a commitment that we will not join NATO. This was the main thing,” Arakhamia told the Ukrainian broadcaster 1+1 on Friday.
Arakhamia, who heads Zelensky’s ‘Servant of the People’ party in the Ukrainian parliament, also confirmed previous media reports that Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister at the time, told the government of Ukraine to keep fighting.
Crimeans voted to join Russia in March 2014, shortly after the US-backed coup in Kiev. The new Ukrainian government then sent troops to quell dissent in Donetsk and Lugansk, which declared independence. After two of Ukraine’s attempts to crush the Donbass republics by force failed, France and Germany negotiated an armistice in Minsk. Last December, however, the leaders of two countries admitted that the Minsk process had actually been used to buy time for Kiev to rebuild its military and economy with the help of NATO.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, citing Kiev’s repeated violations of the Minsk peace accord and the renewed shelling of Donbass. During the negotiations that followed, Arakhamia signed an 18-page document presented by Medinsky, but Ukraine quickly reneged on it after Johnson’s visit, counting on the West to supply it with weapons, ammunition and money.
In September 2022, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as parts of Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions under Russian control, voted to join Russia in a referendum Ukraine and its Western backers denounced as “sham” and illegitimate. Moscow has since said that Kiev would need to recognize this “new territorial reality” as a prerequisite for any new peace talks.
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