Ukraine could be open to discussing the status of Crimea with Russia if Kyiv’s forces reach the border of the occupied region in a planned counteroffensive, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Financial Times.
Zelenskyy has pledged to liberate Crimea from Moscow’s rule despite mounting concerns among western defense officials that the task of fully ousting Russian forces may prove more than Ukraine can accomplish. But Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office and one of the closest individuals to Zelenskyy, signified a willingness to pursue peace talks with the Kremlin on Crimea since a previous attempt fizzled out in April 2022, the FT reported Wednesday.
“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” Sybiha told the FT, referring to the coming counteroffensive. (RELATED: US, Ukraine Clash Over War Strategy As Russia Makes Gains In The East)
Zelenskyy previously ruled out negotiations to end the war until Russian President Vladimir Putin withdraws his army from all of Ukraine, including Crimea, according to the FT.
Now, however, the president and his aides have brought Crimea back into the conversation, Sybiha told the FT.
“It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army,” Sybiha said.
Western governments fear that a Ukrainian push into Crimea, the peninsula to the east Russia took over militarily in 2014, would instead provoke Putin to escalate the war and potentially use nuclear weapons, the FT reported.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said earlier in March he thought Ukraine would face extreme difficulty recapturing Crimea and would likely fail, Politico reported.
They also wonder whether doing so could compromise the Ukrainian military’s capacity to liberate other regions. NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said earlier in 2023 that a negotiated settlement to the war is to be desired, but only once Ukraine has achieved battlefield conditions that give it a place of strength in discussions.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a very quick military solution . . . hence we need to see what are favorable conditions for Ukraine to negotiate and I think Ukraine would be up for that,” Rear Admiral Tim Woods, the British defense attaché in Washington, said Wednesday, according to the FT.
On April 2, the last occupier fled from the Kyiv region. The day will come when we’ll say: the last occupier fled or was killed in the Donetsk region, Luhansk region, Kherson region and our entire south. Crimea will be free and safe again. Ukraine will return all its territories. pic.twitter.com/DeFbkVg81q
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 2, 2023
Soon after Russia invaded in February 2022, Ukraine considered a possibility of compromising over Crimea in peace negotiations, the FT reported. Zelenskyy broke off the talks once alleged Russian war crimes in Bucha, including torture and possible mass murder of civilians, emerged.
After Moscow annexed four additional regions in eastern Ukraine in September, Zelenskyy signed a formal decree barring further negotiations, according to the FT.
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