There was brief room for optimism over the weekend when Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Vladimir Putin may be face-to-face soon.
However, Russia’s lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, cast doubt at least on the timing of a meeting between the two presidents. While saying Sunday that Ukrainian negotiators have “become more realistic” about key issues, “the draft agreement is not ready for submission to a summit meeting.”
By “realistic,” Medinsky said Ukraine must agree to remain neutral, ban nuclear armaments and foreign military bases on its soil, and commit to staying out of military alliances. The Kremlin negotiator added that there has been no progress on Crimea and Donbas.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly declared that giving up Ukrainian land for peace is out of the question. Medinsky added that he does not share the optimism of the Ukrainian side that talks between Putin and Zelenskyy are imminent, saying Russia’s position on Crimea and the Donbas region “remains unchanged.”
Arakhamia told a TV station Saturday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called both presidents and told them he was ready to organize a meeting “in the near future.” He added that, though the date or location has not been determined, it is highly likely to be held in Istanbul or Ankara. His statements now appear overly optimistic at best.
As negotiations have started and stopped over broken assurances from the Russian side, enough common ground has not been reached to advance to where the leaders would meet to finalize details.
Medinsky’s announcement coincides with Russian forces redirecting their military focus onto Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The capture of Kyiv and the area surrounding the capital proved very difficult after several weeks of failed attempts by the invaders.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly pressed for a one-on-one meeting with Putin, but the Kremlin rejects the idea until agreements are already in place. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian defenders give up the industrial heartland of the east to the Russian invaders, but control of the Donbas region has clearly become their purpose. This war is likely not going away anytime soon.