Putin says he’s ready for diplomatic talks with Ukraine after speaking with China’s President Xi

February 25, 2022, 3:41 PM UTC

President Vladimir Putin said he’s ready to authorize talks with Ukraine on a possible neutral status for the country, hours after speaking with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as Russia’s military invasion approached Kyiv.

Putin is willing to take up a proposal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss neutrality, and to send a delegation to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, for talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday. There was no immediate response from Kyiv to the announcement.

The offer came after a phone call between Putin and Xi in which the Russian leader said he was ready for talks “taking into account the signals just received” from Ukraine, according to a Kremlin statement. Chinese state TV had earlier reported that Xi urged Russia and Ukraine to negotiate to “resolve issues” on the call and had reiterated Beijing’s support for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The discussion came as the Ukrainian military defended Kyiv against attacking Russian troops on the second day of the invasion Putin ordered. Zelenskiy has said his forces will defend Ukraine’s independence and he’s called on the U.S. and Europe to do more to support his country. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed Russian forces to enter Ukraine from his territory as part of Russia’s intervention.

It may be hard to find common ground between Russia and Ukraine. Announcing the invasion Thursday, Putin railed against Ukrainian leaders as “neo-Nazis” and said his goal was to replace the “junta” in Kyiv and demilitarize Ukraine.  

Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, hit back at Putin’s criticism, saying 8 million Ukrainians had died in the defeat of fascism in World War II and that his own grandfather had fought in the Soviet army throughout the war. He said he’d reached out to the Kremlin for talks before the invasion but had received only “silence” in response.

Shortly after the Kremlin’s announcement, Putin told a televised meeting of Russia’s Security Council that nationalists were bringing weapons into Ukrainian cities and using civilians as cover against Russian forces.

It’s necessary to discuss a cease-fire and “the end of this invasion,” Zelenskiy said in a speech Thursday. “We are not afraid to talk to Russia. We are not afraid to say everything about security guarantees for our state. We are not afraid to talk about neutral status,” he said.

Putin ordered the invasion after accusing the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands for binding security guarantees that included a halt to further expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a refusal to extend membership to Ukraine. He also called on NATO to withdraw its forces to positions they held in 1997, before central and eastern European nations joined the alliance. NATO had rejected the demands.

The Kremlin’s readiness to talk to Ukraine comes as the U.S. and Europe have responded with waves of sanctions targeting Russia’s financial sector and access to technology amid international condemnation of Putin’s military campaign. 

With shots and explosions heard across the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the city had “entered the defense phase” against Russian forces. “We must keep the capital that the enemy wants to bring to its knees and destroy,” he said.

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