Russia open to Ukraine negotiations in Jerusalem

<SUNBIGHT>~Europe~Nkwo~17th March,2022 @ 23:06 WAT

Moscow and Kyiv give the brightest assessment yet of progress in talks.

RUSSIA has been open to holding negotiations with Ukraine in Jerusalem, a senior diplomatic source said on Saturday, soon after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone.

“At present, it’s not constructive to hold meetings in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus,” Zelensky said earlier Saturday. “These are not the places where we can agree to stop the war… Do I consider Israel, Jerusalem in particular, to be such a place? I think the answer is yes.”

Russia has not rejected the idea of negotiations in Jerusalem, but Israel is not sure it should host the talks, the diplomatic source said.

“We know from our experience that negotiations that don’t have a chance lead to a worse situation on the ground,” the source said.

“We have to see if we can really be helpful,” the source added. “If there can be a breakthrough, we’ll do anything.”

Regarding Bennett’s mediation between Russia and Ukraine, “we aren’t forcing anything,” the source said.

The remark came after Kyiv and Jerusalem denied a report that Bennett told Zelensky to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to end the war.

“People need to understand that we will never pressure Zelensky in either direction,” the source said. “It’s the wrong thing to do… The president of Ukraine and the Ukrainians have to make the decision, and they will have our support.”

“This isn’t Bennett’s initiative,” the source said, adding that Zelensky had asked to speak to Bennett on Saturday and has long sought Israel as a mediator with Russia.

Bennett’s view is that he will always take Zelensky’s calls and try to help if he can, the source said.

The source cited recent statements by Zelensky that he is willing to give up on Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO and by Russia apparently no longer demanding a full demilitarization of Ukraine. This shows that the Russians “aren’t trying to bring Ukraine to its knees,” the source said, adding that these are indications that Ukraine and Russia are gradually moving in the direction of an agreement.

Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian officials gave their most upbeat assessments yet on Sunday of progress in their talks on the war in Ukraine, suggesting there could be positive results within days.

Separately, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Russia was showing signs of willingness to engage in substantive negotiations about ending a conflict in which thousands have died, and more than 2.5 million people have fled.

Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate but not to surrender or accept any ultimatums.

“We will not concede in principle on any positions,” Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a video posted online. “Russia now understands this. Russia is already beginning to talk constructively.”

“I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days,” he said.

Russia’s state-run RIA news agency quoted Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky as saying the talks had made substantial progress.

“According to my personal expectations, this progress may grow in the coming days into a joint position of both delegations, into documents for signing,” he said.

Neither side indicated what the scope of any agreement might be.

Their public comments were issued almost at the same time. They came on the 18th day of the war, which began when Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin terms “a special military operation.”

In a tweet, Podolyak said Russia was carefully listening to Ukraine’s proposals.

“Our demands are the end of the war and the withdrawal of [Russian] troops,” he said. “I see the understanding, and there is a dialog.”■

[Courtesy: Lahav HARKOV// Reuters]

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