Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday he is open to the country adopting a neutral stance as part of any peace deal with Russia to end the ongoing invasion.
The comments were part of a sweeping, 90-minute interview Zelenskyy gave to several Russian journalists on Sunday, the first time he’s spoken at length to Russian journalists in their own language since the war began.
However, the Kremlin warned Russian media outlets not to publish the interview as part of a broader effort to censor what information Russians are able to receive about the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Details from the call were published by Russian journalists living outside Russia.
“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it,” Zelenskyy said, per a translation from Reuters. “This is the most important point.”
Ukrainians would have to vote on the compromise, which would bar the country from joining NATO, a long-sought goal that Zelenskyy admitted was unlikely to happen. A vote on an official neutrality stance could only take place during a ceasefire, he said, as a “referendum is impossible when there is the presence of troops.”
A new round of peace talks are set to begin this week in Turkey.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have shifted tack as his invasion of Ukraine drags on far longer than anticipated, stymied by a fierce Ukrainian resistance. Ukrainian military officials have said they worry the Kremlin may now be focused on dividing Ukraine into occupied and unoccupied territories.
Zelenskyy said Putin’s attempt to revert to an era of the past had instead driven the countries further apart. He pointed to the ongoing barrage in Mariupol, which he said had left the city “littered with corpses.”
“A humanitarian catastrophe inside the city is unequivocal, because it is impossible to go there with food, medicine and water,” he said of Mariupol.
“This is not simply a war, this is much worse,” Zelenskyy added. “A global, historical, cultural split has happened over this month.”
Zelenskyy’s comments came more than a month after the invasion began and just days after he called for worldwide demonstrations to show support for Ukraine.
“It breaks my heart, hearts of all Ukrainians and every free person on the planet. That’s why I ask you to stand against the war,” Zelenskyy said in a message posted to social media. “…Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life.”