Ukraine ‘ready to talk’ on Crimea if offensive succeeds – FT

Ukraine is willing to talk to Russia about the future of its annexed province Crimea, if a planned counteroffensive this year succeeds, the Financial Times reported a senior official as saying late on Wednesday.

“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” the FT quoted Andriy Sybiha as saying. 

The comments represent the first clear shift in Ukrainian government policy in months, and hint at an acceptance that the country will not be able to reclaim all its lost territory by force of arms. Sybiha added that “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation (of Crimea) by our army.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had broken off most contacts with the Russian government after Russia formally annexed four regions of eastern Ukraine last year. At the time, he said that peace talks with Russia would be impossible as long as Vladimir Putin remains president. Putin has since been indicted with war crimes by the UN-backed International Criminal Court, further complicating the outlook for peace talks. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week that he sees no realistic chance for peace talks at the current time, even though the country’s forces have been unable to make any serious advances since last summer. Russia’s economy is also starting to slow sharply under the strain of Western sanctions imposed after the invasion. The ruble fell to a new 12-month low against the dollar in trading in Moscow on Friday.

Sybiha’s comments came on a day that French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are in Beijing for talks on a broad range of subjects – including China’s recent proposals for ending the war in Ukraine. Its proposals had initially been rejected by Ukraine’s Western allies for allowing Russia to effectively keep its conquests. Kyiv, however, had been more guarded, hoping to open a channel of communication to Beijing. That channel still hasn’t been opened, with President Xi Jinping – who spent three days in Moscow last month – so far holding back from speaking to Zelensky.

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