Zelenskyy sets ground rules for peace agreement, Russia censors him

Zelenskyy spoke with Russian media outlets, saying that his country is open to guaranteeing Ukraine’s neutrality and its nuclear-free status, but its representatives will not sign any agreement until Russian troops withdraw from the country. The Ukrainian president also said that the entire process hinges on him personally meeting with Putin and the Ukrainian people agreeing to a referendum to change the Constitution – a referendum that cannot take place while Russian troops remain in Ukraine.

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“We must have agreements with President Putin. The guarantors will not sign anything if the troops are not withdrawn,” Zelenskyy said, according to the presidential office. A personal meeting would be “enough to start the process of troops withdrawal.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks via video call to the Doha Forum in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, March 26, 2022. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks via video call to the Doha Forum in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, March 26, 2022.  (AP Photo/Lujain Jo)

“The troops must be withdrawn, the guarantors will sign everything, and all this will start working. Ratifications in parliaments, a referendum in several months, and only then – amendments to the Constitution,” the president explained.

A referendum is necessary “because only the people can decide that there can be such a status and such guarantors,” Zelenskyy argued. “The referendum will take place in a few months, and the amendments to the Constitution will take at least a year. According to our current legislation.”

The president noted that, during peace talks with Russian diplomats, “We do not discuss ‘denazification’ and demilitarization at all. I said that we will not sit at the negotiating table at all if we talk about some kind of demilitarization, some kind of ‘denazification’. For me, these are completely incomprehensible things.”

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Putin has attempted to justify his attack on Ukraine as an effort to “denazify” the country, playing on the Russian public’s lingering hatred for the Nazi regime. Yet Zelenskyy is Jewish and had family members perish in the Holocaust. Russian officials have compared him to Jews who were forced to collaborate with Nazis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to female flight attendants in comments broadcast on state television on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Image: Reuters Video)

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to female flight attendants in comments broadcast on state television on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Image: Reuters Video) (Reuters Video)

Ukrainian officials have compared Russia’s bombing of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, to the Nazi assault on the city in 1941.

Zelenskyy previously condemned a Russian attack that damaged the Holocaust memorial of Babi Yar earlier this month.

“What will be next if even Babi Yar (is hit), what other ‘military’ objects, ‘NATO bases’ are threatening Russia?” Zelenskyy asked. “Sophie’s Cathedral, Lavra, Andrew’s Church? Whatever they dream about. Damn them.”

Yet Zelenskyy said his diplomats and Russian representatives did discuss key issues such as guarantees of security, neutrality, and Ukraine’s nuclear-free status, because “Russia calls NATO enlargement of the reasons for invading Ukraine.”

A view of the Babyn (Babi) Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv on March 2, 2022. - Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 2 accused Russia, which has launched an invasion of his country, of seeking to "erase" Ukrainians, their country and their history. Five people were killed in the Tuesday attack on Kyiv's main television tower at Babi Yar, the site of World War II's biggest slaughter of Kyiv Jews and a place of memorial and pilgrimage. 

A view of the Babyn (Babi) Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv on March 2, 2022. – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 2 accused Russia, which has launched an invasion of his country, of seeking to “erase” Ukrainians, their country and their history. Five people were killed in the Tuesday attack on Kyiv’s main television tower at Babi Yar, the site of World War II’s biggest slaughter of Kyiv Jews and a place of memorial and pilgrimage.  (Hoto By Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP Via Getty Images)

The president also mentioned discussions about preserving the Russian language in Ukraine, and Zelenskyy said this issue “can be resolved through mutual respect fo the languages of all neighboring countries.”

“We all speak the way we want and the language we want,” he said. “We have more than 100 nationalities in the country. That’s why I said: only a mirror respect for the history, languages, cultural values of all neighbors. I accept that. I am sure that our people will accept it if they want. Because all this will be decided one way or another by the people, the voters.”

Russia quickly banned publication of the interview. Roskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, issued the ban, saying there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, which included “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”

Zelenskyy responded by saying Moscow was afraid of a relatively short conversation with journalists. “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said, according to the Ukrainian news agency RBK Ukraina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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