[Above: President Zelenskyy spoke with CNN on Monday. --eds.]
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday that direct talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin must take place if the two sides are to reach an agreement to end the war, which has been raging for nearly a month with devastating humanitarian consequences.
"Without this meeting, it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war," Zelenskyy said in an interview with Ukrainian media outlets, echoing a call he issued earlier this month -- one that Putin did not accept.
"At the first meeting with the president of Russia, I am ready to raise these issues," Zelenskyy added, referring to the key topics that Russian and Ukrainian delegations have discussed during recent peace talks, including Russia's demand that Ukraine renounce its NATO ambitions and Ukraine's demand for a full withdrawal of Russian forces and firm security assurances.
"This is a very difficult situation for everyone. For Crimea, Donbas, and for everyone. In order to find a way out, you have to take this first step, which I have mentioned: security guarantees, the end of the war," he continued. "It's a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn't know what to do with us with regard to NATO; for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees; and for Russia, which doesn't want further NATO expansion."
Zelenskyy went on to say that major compromise proposals would be put to the Ukrainian public in a referendum, adding that Ukrainians won't accept ultimatums of the kind Russia issued in the case of Mariupol, a besieged port city that Russian forces have relentlessly shelled and bombed for weeks.
On Sunday, Russia said that Ukrainian authorities must lay down arms and surrender the city or face "military tribunals." Ukrainian officials rejected Russia's demands.
"If people are trying to stop a war, there is a cease-fire and troops are withdrawn," Zelenskyy said Monday. "The presidents meet, reach an agreement on withdrawing troops, and there are security guarantees of one sort or another. Compromises must be found, one way or another of guaranteeing our security."
The Ukrainian president's remarks came at the tail-end of the 26th day of Russia's full-scale assault, which has forced millions to flee Ukraine, internally displaced millions more, killed thousands of civilians, and leveled swaths of major cities.
While Russia's ground advance appears to have largely stalled in the face of Ukrainian resistance—Russian forces have yet to seize full control of a major population center—aid groups fear that a protracted war will dramatically heighten the chances of a catastrophic global hunger crisis.
"As Ukraine's crop production cycle this year is disrupted due to the conflict, countries heavily reliant on grain imports from Ukraine are likely to be impacted in the coming year," the International Rescue Committee warned Sunday, pointing specifically to the hunger-stricken nations of Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia.
Republished from Common Dreams (Jake Johnson, staff writer) under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).