Moscow and Kiev are nearing agreement on a number of key issues in talks to end fighting in Ukraine, Turkey’s top diplomat said. While the progress marks a positive sign for diplomacy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that a failure to strike a deal could kick off a “third World War.”
In an interview with Hürriyet on Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “there is convergence between the two sides” and that they “have almost reached agreement” on four “critical” concessions from Ukraine in exchange for a ceasefire.
Those four points include Kiev’s agreement to neutrality and non-membership in the NATO alliance, the demilitarization and – as Russia puts it – ‘denazification’ of Ukraine, as well as the removal of restrictions on the Russian language. Cavusoglu did not spell out exactly what each concession would entail.
Though any agreement will likely require approval from the leaders of both countries, the last point should be easily accepted by Zelensky, a native Russian speaker whose Russian-language film ‘Love in the Big City 2’ was banned in Ukraine in 2018 under a law creating “quotas for Ukrainian-language content.”
In exchange, Russia would declare a ceasefire and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory, Cavusoglu said.
However, the FM failed to mention several major demands previously made by the Russian side, leaving the status of the talks and the true likelihood for a final deal unclear. Moscow has insisted on independence for the Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the Donbass region, and for Ukraine to accept its territorial claim to the Crimean Peninsula, which has been under Russian control since 2014.
Further, fighting in Mariupol remains intense, suggesting Russia will seek to wrest the large port city from Ukrainian control even as progress is reported in the negotiations. Attempts to create humanitarian corridors to let civilians escape the city have seen some success, though Kiev accuses Moscow of continued and indiscriminate shelling. On Sunday, the Russian military said it would allow non-combatants to flee along certain roads for a brief window of time, and that fighters could leave with them so long as they abandoned their weapons.
“Ukrainian armed units and foreign mercenaries will be able to leave the city without weapons and munitions along a route agreed with Ukraine,” said Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defense Management Center. “All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol.”
That offer was rejected by Kiev, however, with Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk telling a local newspaper “There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms.”
“We have already informed the Russian side about this. I wrote: ‘Instead of wasting time on eight pages of letters, just open the corridor,’” she added.
As diplomats seek to hammer out a ceasefire and deescalate hostilities in Ukraine, Zelensky appeared with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday and said he would be open for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but warned that failure to reach an agreement could have dire consequences.
“I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war,” he said.
“We have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, [the] possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.”