By ANDREW MELDRUM and YURAS KARMANAU
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president has suggested he’s open to peace talks with Russia, softening his earlier refusal to negotiate with Moscow while President Vladimir Putin is in power — while sticking to Kyiv’s demands.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appeal to the international community late Monday to “force Russia into real peace talks” reflected a change in rhetoric for a man who signed a decree in late September stating “the impossibility of holding talks” with Putin. But since his preconditions appear to be non-starters for Moscow, it’s hard to see how Zelenskyy’s latest comments would advance any talks.
Zelenskyy reiterated that his conditions for dialogue were the return of all of Ukraine’s occupied lands, compensation for damage caused by the war and the prosecution of war crimes.
Western weapons and aid have been key to Ukraine’s ability to fight off Russia’s invasion, which some initially expected would tear through the country with relative ease. That means Kyiv cannot ignore how the war is seen in the U.S. and the European Union, according to political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
“Zelensky is trying to maneuver because the promise of negotiations does not oblige Kyiv to anything, but it makes it possible to maintain the support of Western partners,” Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center independent think tank, said.
“A categorical refusal to hold talks plays into the Kremlin’s hands, so Zelenskyy is changing the tactics and talks about the possibility of a dialogue, but on conditions that make it all very clear,” he added.
While support for Ukraine has garnered strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, a growing conservative opposition could complicate that next year if Republicans take control of the House in Tuesday’s elections.
Recent comments from Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, saying lawmakers would not cut a “blank check” to Ukraine have more clearly reflected the party’s growing skepticism about the cost of support for Kyiv.
In private, Republican lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine say there could be an opportunity to pass one more tranche of assistance this year with the current Congress.
Russia and Ukraine held several rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey early on in the war, which is now nearing its nine-month mark, and Zelenskyy initially even called for a personal meeting with Putin — something the Kremlin has brushed off.
The talks stalled after the last meeting of the delegations, held in Istanbul in March, yielded no results.
Zelenskyy said Monday that Kyiv has “repeatedly proposed (talks) and to which we always received crazy Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail.”
Russia resumed calls for talks after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the east and the south of the country began in September — but ever since Putin illegally annexed four regions of Ukraine, Kyiv has rejected the possibility of negotiating with him.
Zelenskyy on Monday listed conditions for the dialogue to begin, including the “restoration of (Ukraine’s) territorial integrity … compensation for all war damage, punishment for every war criminal and guarantees that it will not happen again.”
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, stressed on Tuesday that Moscow is not setting any conditions for the resumption of talks and accused Kyiv of lacking “good will.”
“This is their choice, we have always declared our readiness for such negotiations,” Rudenko said.
In an interview released on Tuesday, presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said that Western countries wouldn’t push Kyiv to negotiate on Moscow’s terms.
“Ukraine is receiving rather effective weapons from its partners, first and foremost the U.S.,” Podolyak said. “We’re pushing the Russian army out of our territory. And given that, it’s nonsense, to force us to negotiate, and de facto to concede to Russia’s ultimatum! No one will do that.”
In other developments:
— In the eastern Donetsk region, which the Russians are struggling to take full control of, Moscow’s shelling killed three civilians and wounded seven others over the past 24 hours, according to Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Kyrylenko said the fatalities occurred in the city of Bakhmut, a key target of Russia’s grinding offensive in Donetsk, and the town of Krasnohorivka. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister last week described the Bakhmut area as “the epicenter” of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
— Elsewhere, two civilians were seriously wounded by unexploded mines in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, where Kyiv’s forces retook broad swaths of territory in September, Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.
— In the partially occupied Kherson region in the south, where Ukraine’s troops are conducting a successful counteroffensive, Russian-installed authorities said they have “completed” measures to evacuate residents ahead of anticipated Ukrainian advances. The Kremlin-appointed administration had sought to relocate tens of thousands of people in anticipation of a Ukrainian advance deeper into the region.
— Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show a rapid expansion of a cemetery in southern Ukraine in the months after Russian forces seized the port city of Mariupol. It remains unclear how many people were buried there.
— The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations reassured Ukrainian farmers that extending a wartime deal that allowed Ukrainian grain and other commodities to be shipped on the Black Sea was a priority for the U.N. The agreement is set to expire on Nov. 19.
“I am here seeing Ukraine as the breadbasket of the world. … This (war) really has had an impact on the entire global food market,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said while speaking to farmers and reporters at a grain storage facility in Kyiv.
Brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, the shipping initiative has allowed more than 10 million tons of grain to leave Ukrainian ports and travel along a designated corridor. Russia briefly suspended its participation in the deal last week, alleging that a Ukrainian drone had attacked its Black Sea fleet in Crimea on Oct. 29.
Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia. Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed from Washington.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine