Ukraine says negotiated peace with Russia is not an option, dismissed U.S. deal with Kremlin that excluded Crimea

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Ukraine says negotiated peace with Russia is not an option, dismissed U.S. deal with Kremlin that excluded Crimea

A municipality worker rips a pro-Russian billboard off after Russia’s military retreat from Kherson, Ukraine, on Nov. 22.MURAD SEZER/Reuters

A negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine is impossible and the West should seek to accelerate, rather than avert, a Russian defeat, a top Ukrainian official said Tuesday.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, dismissed suggestions that Ukraine should accept the loss of the Crimean Peninsula as the price of ending a war that has killed thousands of people and driven millions more from their homes. Crimea was illegally seized and annexed by Moscow in 2014; Russia launched a larger-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year.

The independent Ukrainska Pravda news website reported on Tuesday that the United States had proposed a peace deal to the Kremlin that would have Russia withdraw from all Ukrainian territory, except Crimea, which would hold a referendum on its future after seven years. In return, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would agree not to integrate Ukraine as a member for the same seven-year period. The proposal was dismissed by the Kremlin.

“There can be no attempt to repeat 2014 with the proposition to trade Crimea for some stable peace. Sadly, Western elites need time to realize this,” Mr. Podolyak said in an interview with The Globe and Mail while inside the fortified Presidential Administration compound in the centre of Kyiv. “The elites should realize that all red lines have been crossed in this war, and that no compromise decision is possible.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak speaks during an interview with AFP in Kyiv.GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images

After Russia’s seizure of Crimea – which only Cuba, Nicaragua and Syria have recognized – Moscow stirred up an eight-year proxy war in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region that continued until February despite a pair of ceasefire pacts known as the Minsk agreements. Mr. Podolyak said “mutual hatred” created by the 2022 invasion, and the revelation of hundreds of apparent Russian war crimes committed since then, has made a third Minsk deal impossible.

Western politicians, he said, are intimidated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the event that territory he views as part of Russia comes under attack. Some leaders are also still attached to prewar thinking that sees Russia as an important member of international institutions, and seek a return to the former status quo.

“They should accept the fact that real security – which doesn’t allow Russia to use its traditional tools, migration, nuclear threats, election meddling, political assassinations – would be possible only in the case that Russia is defeated,” Mr. Podolyak said.

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Rather than negotiating, Ukraine has been signalling its intent to drive Russian troops out of all its territory – including Crimea. Ukrainian troops reportedly made an amphibious landing this week on the Kinburn Spit, a potential launching pad for a push toward the Crimean Peninsula. On Tuesday, air-raid sirens sounded over the strategic port city of Sevastopol, the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

“Our air defence forces are working right now,” Sevastopol’s Russian-installed governor, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said in social-media post. “Please remain calm.”

Sending more weapons to Ukraine – Mr. Podolyak named anti-aircraft missiles as the country’s No. 1 need, followed by artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, as well as drones – would speed up the process of driving all Russian troops out of all Ukrainian territory, which he said was Kyiv’s precondition to any negotiations with Moscow.

Mr. Podolyak made the defiant remarks 11 days after the Ukrainian flag was raised in the southern city of Kherson, ending a 256-day Russian occupation of the provincial capital. It was the third major Ukrainian victory in the war, after the successful defence of Kyiv and the liberation of the eastern Kharkiv region.

Russian forces, which made rapid gains in the first weeks of the invasion, still control about 17 per cent of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory, including Crimea and much of Donbas, as well as parts of the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin lies on the ground near the local prison in Kherson.Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press

Russia has responded to the battlefield setbacks with waves of missile and drone attacks targeting civilian infrastructure. Kyiv, like much of the country, is now struggling to provide basic services to citizens, with most residents of the capital receiving 12 hours of electricity a day as temperatures hover around the freezing point.

Ukrainian government officials said this week that nearly every power station in the country has been attacked since the start of the war, and that residents should prepare for rolling power outages to continue until at least March.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization warned of a looming humanitarian disaster. “This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” said Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe. “Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is either damaged or destroyed. This is already having knock-on effects on the health system and on people’s health.”

Mr. Podolyak, however, said Ukraine wouldn’t be forced to the negotiating table by the attacks on its electricity, water and heating systems. “We need to win this war,” he said. “In case someone in the West doesn’t understand this: If we need to freeze, we will freeze.”

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS