Hopes for peace talks dim as Russia raises objections and Belarus demands to take part
By Ivan Nechepurenko
The prospect of successful talks between Moscow and Kyiv over a potential peace agreement further dimmed Thursday after Russia’s foreign minister said the Ukrainian side had proposed a new draft deal that deviated from previous versions.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus also complicated the situation by demanding that his country be included in the negotiations.
Talks between Russia and Ukraine began four days after President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Several rounds have been held in person and via video link, leading observers to be cautiously optimistic about their progress.
But the talks have been repeatedly disturbed by events on the ground in Ukraine, most recently by reports of atrocities committed by Russian troops in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv.
It is not clear whether the two countries’ delegations have convened again after the events in Bucha. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that the Ukrainian side had rolled back some of the proposals it made during the last in-person round of negotiations, held in Istanbul in late March.
The Ukrainian side did not immediately respond to Lavrov’s claims.
Lavrov said in a statement that Kyiv had suggested an “unacceptable idea” that the two countries’ leaders needed to discuss the status of Crimea and the Donbas, the Ukrainian region that Russia recognized as independent before the war. In Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation proposed a 15-year negotiating process for Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized in 2014.
Lavrov also said the new draft put forward by Ukraine on Wednesday had removed a clause that would allow Russia to veto all international “war games” held on Ukrainian soil. He said the new Ukrainian proposals “highlight Kyiv’s true intentions, its position of dragging and even undermining the talks by moving away from the understandings reached earlier.”
He said the Russian delegation would nonetheless continue the negotiations, pushing its own draft agreement.
In Belarus — which has been aligned with Russia in the conflict, including by providing its territory to conduct attacks against Ukraine and resupply Russian troops — Lukashenko said that “there can be no negotiations” without his country’s involvement.
“There can be no separate deals behind Belarus’ back,” he said in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, during a meeting with government members. “I know that Russia understands this position.”
Minsk’s involvement in the talks would benefit Russia and would carry symbolic significance for Putin. In 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed an agreement that declared the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a move that Putin has described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”