By John Ikani
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday rejected Russia’s offer of holding peace talks in Belarus, suggesting alternative cities including Budapest and Warsaw for talks.
Zelensky made the remarks in a video address posted on his Telegram channel shortly after the Kremlin announced that a Russian delegation has arrived in Belarus and will be ready to start negotiations with Ukraine in the city of Gomel.
The Ukrainian President who hinged his decision not to hold talks in Belarus noted that Minsk itself was complicit in the Russian invasion.
Among the alternative cities suggested for the talks are Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Baku.
“We’re saying no to Minsk. Other cities can be a place to meet,” the President said. “Of course, we want peace, we want to meet, we want for the war to end. Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Baku — we have suggested all that to Russia,” he added.
President Zelensky’s spokesman said on social media on Friday that Ukraine and Russia were discussing a place and time for talks.
“Ukraine was and remains ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace,” spokesman Sergii Nykyforov said.
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a delegation including representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and other government agencies has arrived in Belarus.
British Foreign Minister Liz Truss said that there could be no talks with Russia over Ukraine while Moscow has troops in its neighbour, adding that the conflict could be protracted.
“Now if the Russians are serious about negotiations they need to remove their troops from Ukraine. They cannot negotiate with a gun to the head of the Ukrainians … So frankly, I don’t trust these so-called efforts of negotiation,” she told Sky News on Sunday.
It is unclear what Putin and Zelensky’s demands will be of one another, as the Russian advance allegedly was slowing on the fourth day of the war due to supply and morale issues. It is expected that the status of the two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, withdrawal of Russian troops, and status of prisoners of war will be of heavy focus.
After amassing some 190,000 troops to the north, east and south of Ukraine, Putin on Monday signed a decree to recognize two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, as independent entities in a signing ceremony shown on state television.
On Thursday, Russia finally launched what Putin called a “special military operation” after weeks of denying its intention to invade Ukraine. Putin argued that Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.