Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has outlined his conditions for a peace settlement to end the war with Russia, pushing back against some western suggestions that Kyiv should compromise with Moscow over its borders.
Hours later, Moscow launched missile attacks on Kyiv and targets across Ukraine, prompting regional governors to urge the public to seek shelter in bunkers. Ukrenergo, the state energy company, ordered emergency power outages across the country and “in particular, the capital”.
While Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that he was open to peace talks, he stressed he would not pause the fighting over winter. His comments follow suggestions by some US officials, including military chief General Mark Milley, that winter may provide an opportunity to begin negotiations with Russia and that Ukraine might never be able to expel Russian forces from all its territory.
“We will not allow Russia to wait it out, build up its forces and then start a new series of terror and global destabilisation,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the G20 summit in Bali. “I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped,” he added, snubbing Moscow by addressing leaders of the “G19”.
Some western diplomats have privately discussed that talks could start on the basis of the front line that preceded Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and fuelled a war in the eastern Donbas region with the use of local proxy forces.
The suggestions came as Ukrainian forces recaptured Kherson last week, dealing a major blow to the Russian army that had occupied the southern provincial capital since March. On Monday, Zelenskyy visited the city. Ukraine has regained more than half of its territory seized by Russian forces since February 24.
“It is like, for example, D-Day — the landing of the Allies in Normandy,” Zelenskyy said as he greeted Kherson residents and oversaw the return of the Ukrainian flag over the city.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Zelenskyy’s plan was confirmation that Kyiv had “no desire to hold negotiations”, state newswire Ria Novosti reported. Russian president Vladimir Putin did not attend the G20 and was represented by his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Meanwhile, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter after the missile strikes: “Russian missiles are killing people and ruining infrastructure across Ukraine right now. This is what Russia has to say on the issue of peace talks.”
He added: “Stop proposing Ukraine to accept Russian ultimatums! This terror can only be stopped with the strength of our weapons & principles.”
Russia-backed officials in Nova Kakhovka, a city on the Dnipro river’s eastern bank near Kherson, were evacuated on Tuesday as fighting continued during a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Civil servants and municipal employees had been “relocated to safer places” in Kherson region after coming under Ukrainian artillery fire from across the river, the Moscow-controlled occupation administration said.
In his speech to the G20, Zelenskyy also repeated his previous request for the total withdrawal of Russian troops and called for the release of all prisoners of war and Ukrainians forcibly deported by Moscow.
He added that energy security would be pivotal to Ukraine’s success and a lasting peace. About 40 per cent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been destroyed by Russian missile and drone strikes since early October.
“Every week, Russia blows up our power plants, transformers and electricity supply lines,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian officials have stressed in recent days that they intend to keep fighting, despite mixed messages from the west about whether it is time to more seriously consider negotiations with Russia.
In a call on Monday, Ukraine’s military chief General Valerii Zaluzhny told his US counterpart Milley that “we will fight as long as we have the strength”. Ukraine would press ahead with the government’s goal to liberate all Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces, he said. “We will not stop on this path under any circumstances. The Ukrainian military will not accept any negotiations, agreements or compromises,” Zaluzhny was quoted as telling Milley.
Following Milley’s remarks, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that “as long as Russia holds the position that it simply gets to grab as much territory as it wants by force, it’s hard to see them as a good-faith counterparty in a negotiation”.
US president Joe Biden and other senior American officials have stressed recently that they will continue to supply Ukraine with lethal military aid, with another package expected in the coming weeks.