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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Putin demands Ukraine surrender four regions to stop war

    Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded Friday that Ukraine surrender four southeastern regions that Russian troops partly occupy and renounce plans to join NATO as conditions for Russia to “immediately” stop hostilities and start negotiations to end the war.

    Putin’s demands would amount to capitulation by Ukraine and the loss of more than one-fifth of Ukraine’s sovereign territory — including Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed in 2014.

    The Russian leader’s remarks appeared designed to get ahead of an international “peace” conference organized by Ukraine in Switzerland this weekend. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to reiterate his call for Russia’s complete withdrawal of military forces and the end of Moscow’s illegal occupation of Ukraine.

    “Today we are making another concrete, real peace proposal,” Putin said, addressing Russia’s top diplomats in a televised meeting. “If Kyiv and the Western capitals refuse it, as before, then in the end, that’s their business and their political and moral responsibility for the continuation of bloodshed.”

    Zelenskyy has stated repeatedly that Ukraine will not surrender sovereign territory and, speaking Friday at the Swiss conference, he quickly dismissed Putin’s offer as one that “cannot be trusted.”

    “He will not stop,” Zelenskyy said about Putin, drawing a parallel with Hitler’s aggressive expansion before the outbreak of World War II.

    “It is the same thing that Hitler used to do,” he added. “This is why we should not trust these messages.”

    The Russian leader’s broader demands included cementing Ukraine’s “neutral, nonaligned, nonnuclear status” and lifting all Western sanctions against Russia. Putin also doubled down on the ill-defined goals of “denazifying and demilitarizing” Ukraine, aims that he used as pretexts for the invasion in February 2022, essentially signaling that his proposed deal envisions a de facto unconditional surrender of Ukraine.

    Putin has repeatedly and falsely insisted that Russia is fighting to oust Nazis from Ukraine and that Russia was forced to invade because it was under threat from NATO powers.

    Putin’s demands came a day after President Joe Biden, at a news conference with Zelenskyy at a meeting of the Group of Seven in Italy, said that the United States was committed to supporting Ukraine for the long haul.

    “We’ve taken three major steps at the G-7 that collectively show Putin he cannot wait us out,” Biden told reporters as he appeared with Zelenskyy at the Italian hotel villa where he is staying. “You cannot divide us. And we’ll be with Ukraine until they prevail in this war.”

    But in a sign of Russia’s own resolve to fight until victory, Putin on Friday, at a televised event with decorated soldiers, said that nearly 700,000 Russian troops were active in the war zone in Ukraine — more than triple the February 2022 invasion force, which was estimated at 150,000 to 200,000.

    In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Putin was trying to fulfill his objectives by reaching beyond the capabilities of his military.

    “This is a proposal that actually means that Russia should achieve their war aims, by expecting that Ukrainians should give up significantly more land than Russia has been able to occupy so far,” Stoltenberg said at a meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers. “So this is not a peace proposal. This is a proposal of more aggression, more occupation.”

    In a recent survey, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians said they believe Russia wants to enter peace negotiations to give Moscow time to prepare another attack.

    Putin, however, insisted that Russia is open to a deal.

    “The essence of our proposal is not some kind of temporary truce or suspension of fire, as the West would want it to restore losses, rearm the Kyiv regime, prepare it for a new offensive,” he said. “I repeat, we are not talking about freezing the conflict but about ending it.”

    Putin’s comments marked a rare occasion in which he explicitly set out conditions for ending the war in Ukraine. Since the start of the invasion, his goals often appeared to shift drastically, especially after it became clear Moscow had overestimated its ability to carry out a swift and decisive attack.

    Still, Putin’s hard line and maximalist stance reflect the Russian leader’s confidence after new advances on the battlefield. Moscow in recent months has been emboldened by fractures in Western support for Ukraine, and Putin seems intent on capturing as much territory as possible ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November and the prospect of negotiating a deal with Donald Trump.

    Independent analysts said Putin offered no compromises or concessions on Russia’s part.

    “This is not a peace plan but a series of maximalist demands directed at the West and Ukraine in exchange for ending hostilities,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of R. Politik, a Russian political consultancy, now based in France. “Moscow offers no concessions; there is no scope for compromise.”

    The list of demands does not represent anything fundamentally new, as Putin previously stated that Russia would never voluntarily give up territory it claims to have annexed in the occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

    Russia hardly controls all of the territory that Putin has claimed to annex in violation of international law — meaning a Ukrainian surrender on Putin’s terms would cede Russia even more territory than it now occupies.

    Russia was never able to capture Zaporizhzhia city, the regional capital, and its troops were forced to withdraw from Kherson city, capital of the Kherson region, in late 2022.

    Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that Putin had killed any chance of negotiation by taking an overly maximalist opening position but that he might have succeeded in convincing nations distrustful of the West that he is open to peace talks.

    “Putin is raising the stakes, perhaps to start negotiations,” Kolesnikov said. “But he raised them so high he blocked the very possibility of negotiations, although he attracted the attention of the Global South and China with a message ‘I propose a peace plan, but they don’t listen to me.’”

    Putin’s speech was timed to preempt the Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace summit that is expected to be attended by officials from some 90 nations.

    Russia was not invited, and the Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed the event as pointless as a result, but Stanovaya said Moscow was actually concerned about losing ground in international opinion. “Moscow views the Swiss conference as an escalating action against Russia, an effort to solidify an anti-Russian stance globally, and the Kremlin is determined to thwart this,” she said.

    Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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