Ukraine announces new counter-offensive against Russian forces in the south

In an interview with Russian journalists on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky spoke at length about a key point in the potential peace talks: the possibility of neutralization for Ukraine.

“We are ready to accept this,” Zhelensky said. “This is the most important point.”

Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have long said they are ready to talk about Ukraine’s neutrality and that NATO is not ready to accept NATO as a member of the coalition.

It will, in theory, meet one of the demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin: Ukraine must abandon its NATO aspirations.

But it is not so simple. Zhelensky also made it clear that Ukraine would reject security guarantees without legally binding “neutrality.” While Ukraine is under Russian occupation, the Ukrainian leader has said he is not interested in empty promises.

“I’m interested in making sure the Budapest Memorandum is not just another piece of paper,” he said.

Zhelensky mentions a memorable moment in post-Cold War history. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine – at least on paper – came to have the world’s third largest nuclear stockpile.

Russia maintained operational control over those weapons, but Ukraine signed an agreement in 1994 to drop nuclear weapons stationed in its territory in exchange for security guarantees, including the protection of Ukraine’s regional integrity and political independence.. Russia, which signed the Budapest Memorandum, annexed Crimea in 2014 and dealt decisively with the invasion of Ukraine in February.

Zelensky’s senior adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said security guarantees should, in essence, include the commitment of those who guarantee to help Ukraine in the event of an occupation.

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It is important to add neutrality – a kind of taste that Putin finds – something that Zelensky simply could not offer. The preference for NATO membership is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine.

It was there that Zhelensky gave Russian interviewees a lesson in the democratic process in Ukraine. Security guarantees, he explained, should be held in a referendum in Ukraine.

“Why? Because we have the law on referendums, ”Zhelensky said. “We’ve passed it. Changes in this or that situation … and security guarantees presuppose constitutional changes. You understand, don’t you? Constitutional changes.”

And that is the difference. Russia has a political system – Putin – and Zhelensky is the head of a democratic government. Despite the neutrality at the negotiating table, the Ukrainian people have their say.

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