Ukraine is “ready” to talk to Russia about Crimea if the counterattack succeeds

A senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Financial Times that Kiev is ready to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the borders of the Russian-occupied peninsula.

The remarks by Andrei Sepiha, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, are the clearest statement of Ukraine’s interest in negotiations since it broke off peace talks with the Kremlin last April.

“If we succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we are on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] A diplomatic page to discuss the issue,” Sepiha said, referring to the long-planned Kiev counterattack.

He added, “This does not mean that we rule out the path of liberation [of Crimea] with our army.”

Sepha’s comments may ease Western officials who question Ukraine’s ability to reconquer the peninsula and fear that any attempt to do so militarily could prompt President Vladimir Putin to escalate his war, perhaps with nuclear weapons.

So far, Zelensky has ruled out peace talks until Russian forces leave Ukraine entirely, including Crimea.

Sepha is a veteran diplomat who focuses on foreign policy in the president’s office and was at Zelensky’s side at crucial moments in the war.

He said the president and his aides are now talking specifically about Crimea, where the Ukrainian military is close to launching its counter-offensive to retake territory.

Andrej Sepiha, right, is a veteran foreign policy-focused diplomat in the president’s office who was alongside Volodymyr Zelensky, center, at the war’s crucial moments. © Ukrainian Presidential Press Office / Alamy

A Zelenskyy spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Admiral Tim Woods, Britain’s military attache in Washington, said on Wednesday that Crimea would need “a political solution just because of the concentration of power and what it might mean for the Ukrainians to get there.”

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He added, “I don’t think there will be a military solution very quickly… Hence we need to know the favorable conditions for Ukraine to negotiate and I think Ukraine will be ready for that.”

In the early days of the war, Ukraine was ready to negotiate with Moscow about the future of Crimea rather than insist on its military recovery at any cost.

But for now, the only known contacts between Kiev and Moscow are negotiating the exchange of prisoners of war and the return of forcibly deported children to Russia.

Ukraine broke off peace talks after alleged Russian war crimes were discovered in the Kiev suburb of Pusha, while Zelensky signed a decree declaring the impossibility of negotiations with Putin after the Kremlin annexed four provinces in September.

The Ukrainian president has repeatedly made clear his ultimate goal of bringing all of his country’s territory, including Crimea, under Kiev’s control.

But in May last year, he indicated that Ukraine could consider a peace deal if Russian forces returned to their positions in eastern Ukraine before the invasion last year, and indicated that the Crimean issue would be resolved later through diplomacy.

Crimea has been occupied by Russia since February 2014 and annexed by Moscow the following month after a mock referendum – a move internationally condemned as an illegal land grab.

Recently, Ukrainian forces have intensified their attacks on Russian military installations on the peninsula, including land and sea attacks with drones.

Kiev also hopes that its next counterattack will advance south – perhaps through Zaporizhia Province – and cut a land bridge that would allow Russia to supply invasion forces from Crimea.

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Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelenskyy advisor, Tell Radio Free Europe said, on Wednesday, that Ukrainian forces will be on the doorstep of Crimea within “five to seven months.”

But some of Ukraine’s Western allies fear Putin could resort to tactical nuclear weapons to defend the peninsula, which the Kremlin says is non-negotiable.

The Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Crimea with the Russian mainland

The Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Crimea to the Russian mainland © EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

“Some of them are so afraid of Ukraine approaching the administrative borders of Crimea that they are trying, directly or indirectly, to delay this moment,” said Alyona Gutmanchuk, director of the Center for New Europe, a Kiev-based think tank.

She added that the concern was so great about the escalation of fighting over Crimea that it affected “the decisions of some allies about what kind of weapons to be supplied to Ukraine and at what speed.”

Getmanchuk also said that the Ukrainian command felt this after a successful counterattack [in the rest of the country] Putin may be eager to talk.”

But Ukraine’s turn in the negotiations may face resistance at home. a vote In February and March by the Kyiv International Sociological Institute, 87 percent of Ukrainians found any territorial concessions for peace unacceptable. Only 9 percent said they would accept concessions if it meant a lasting peace.

The poll found that 64 percent of Ukrainians want Ukraine to try to take back all of its territory, including Crimea, “even if there is a risk of reduced Western support and a risk of a protracted war.”

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