During a Nov. 22 virtual meeting, the Russian leader branded the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war as a "tragedy" and blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the continued violence. He reiterated that Moscow has never closed the door for negotiations. Both sides have lost thousands of soldiers, on top of the many civilian casualties in Ukraine.
"Military actions are always a tragedy. And of course, we should think about how to stop this tragedy," Putin said. "By the way, Russia has never refused peace talks with Ukraine."
Putin also discussed wider geopolitical issues, saying economic activity worldwide is moving eastward – in particular, toward Asia. He also mentioned that Russia had shipped grain to Africa free of charge, and emphasized the continent's willingness to contribute to global climate and development goals. "Western observers have suggested that Putin is trying to bring African countries into Russia's sphere of influence," the Daily Express noted.
In contrast, Zelensky has favored ongoing military offensives against Russia. He signed a decree in October 2022 declaring that peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv are "impossible."
On the same day as the virtual meeting, the Ukrainian leader admitted that his troops faced a "difficult" winter while defending against Russian attacks. Zelensky cited "difficult weather" and "difficult defense" on four fronts – Lyman, Bakhmut, Donetsk and Avdiivka – as particular challenges for Ukrainian military units. He also urged Western leaders to continue their support for Ukraine.
"For some reason, people treat it like a movie and expect that there will be no long pauses in the events; that the picture before their eyes will always change; [and] that there will be some surprises every day," Zelensky remarked.
"But for us, for our warriors, this is not a movie. These are our lives. This is daily hard work, and it will not be over as quickly as we would like. But we have no right to give up, and we will not."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has attested to Putin's remarks about Moscow's willingness to sit down and talk with Kyiv as early as January. However, he pointed out that Ukraine's allies in the West – with the U.S. at the helm – have stopped such negotiations.
"It is well known that we supported the proposal of the Ukrainian side to negotiate early in the special military operation," Lavrov said. "By the end of March , the two delegations agreed on the principle to settle this conflict."
"It is [also] well known and was published openly that our American, British and some European colleagues told Ukraine that it is too early to deal. The arrangement, which was almost agreed [upon], was never revisited by the Kyiv regime." (Related: Russian foreign minister Lavrov claims West has prevented Ukraine from taking part in peace talks, now 'almost in a real war' with his country.)
Lavrov ultimately warned: "Those who refuse [peace talks] must understand that the longer they refuse, the more difficult it is to find a solution." He and other officials in the Kremlin have blamed the closure of diplomatic channels on Zelensky, who has reiterated that he won't negotiate as long as Putin is in power.
Head over to UkraineWitness.com for more stories about the Russia-Ukraine war.
Watch Rachel Blevins discuss why the U.S. has suddenly encouraged Ukraine to sit down and negotiate with Russia below.
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