Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky offered a dire outlook on the war Sunday, saying he is willing to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin — but failure at peace talks could lead to World War III.
“I’m ready for negotiations with him,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview. “I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war.”
“If there’s just 1 percent chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that. I can tell you about the result of this negotiations — in any case, we are losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground,” he said.
“So, I think we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War,” the Ukrainian leader said.
Zelensky — heralded for his defiance amid the Russian onslaught and his ability to rally his countrymen — said Ukrainians have demonstrated their “dignity” by fighting the Russian army and dealing a “powerful blow.” But he noted that dignity will not save lives.
Zelenksy was asked about the demands Russia has made on Ukraine, including to recognize Crimea as a part of Russia and the two separatist areas of Ukrainian Donbas under Russian control as independent republics, as well as Ukrainians renouncing their goal to become a NATO member. Zelensky said those are terms that he cannot accept.
“Any compromises related to our territorial integrity and our sovereignty and the Ukrainian people have spoken about it, they have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers, they have greeted them with bravery, they have greeted them with weapons in their hands,” he said on CNN.
Russia “cannot curry favor with the citizens of another country forcibly,” Zelensky said. “You cannot just make a president of another country to recognize anything by the use of force.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks last week between Ukraine and Russia are coming close on “critical” issues that could lead to a cease-fire but cautioned that they could falter if the two sides “take a step back from the current positions.”
Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesman, agreed with Cavusoglu’s characterization but said negotiations would eventually have to include Putin and Zelensky.
At this point, he said, Putin believes the “strategic issues” involving Crimea and Donbas are still unresolved, meaning a sit-down now would be premature.
Since launching its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia has targeted civilian structures, including residential buildings, hospitals and schools, and has created a humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe.
Russian troops have also laid siege to a number of Ukrainian cities – including the port city of Mariupol, cutting the citizens off from heat, water and food, while keeping them under constant bombardment.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations commissioner for refugees, said Sunday that the fighting has displaced more than 10 million people.
“Among the responsibilities of those who wage war, everywhere in the world, is the suffering inflicted on civilians who are forced to flee their homes,” he tweeted Sunday.
“The war in Ukraine is so devastating that 10 million have fled — either displaced inside the country, or as refugees abroad,” Grandi said.