World

Putin pledges ceasefire in Ukraine if Kyiv withdraws troops and drops Nato bid

The deal appears to be a non-starter for Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined the proposal in Moscow (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined the proposal in Moscow (AP) (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to “immediately” order a ceasefire in Ukraine and begin negotiations if Kyiv starts to withdraw troops from the four occupied Ukrainian regions and renounces plans to join Nato.

Such a deal appears a non-starter for Kyiv, which wants to join the military alliance and has demanded that Russia withdraw its troops from all of its territory.

“We will do it immediately,” Mr Putin said in a speech at the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected what he called an ultimatum by Putin to surrender more territory.

Mr Putin’s remarks came as leaders of the G7 leaders met in Italy and as Switzerland prepared to host scores of world leaders this weekend to try to map out first steps toward peace in Ukraine.

Mr Putin said his proposal is aimed at a “final resolution” of the conflict in Ukraine rather than “freezing it”, and stressed that the Kremlin is “ready to start negotiations without delay”.

Broader demands for peace that the Russian leader listed included Ukraine’s non-nuclear status, restrictions on its military force and protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population in the country.

“We’re urging to turn this tragic page of history and to begin restoring, step-by-step, restore the unity between Russia and Ukraine and in Europe in general,” Mr Putin said.

Mr Zelensky, in Italy for the G7 meeting, said Mr Putin’s proposal was not new and was in the form of an “ultimatum”, comparing it to actions by Adolf Hitler in seizing territory that led to the Second World War.

“What Putin demands is to give them a part of our territories, those occupied and not occupied, talking about several regions of our country,” he said.

Mr Putin’s remarks represented a rare occasion in which he clearly laid out his conditions for ending the war in Ukraine, but it did not include any new demands.

The Kremlin has said before that Kyiv should recognise its territorial gains and drop its bid to join Nato.

Russia does not fully control either of the four regions it illegally annexed in 2022, but Mr Putin said on Friday that Kyiv should withdraw from them entirely and essentially cede them to Moscow within their administrative borders.

In Zaporizhzhia in the southeast, Russia still does not control the region’s namesake administrative capital of 700,000 people, and in the neighbouring Kherson region, Moscow withdrew from Kherson’s biggest city and capital of the same name in November 2022.

But Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called Mr Putin’s plan “manipulative”, “absurd” and designed to “mislead the international community, undermine diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a just peace, and split the unity of the world majority around the goals and principles of the UN Charter”.

Besides seeking to join Nato, Ukraine wants Russian forces out of its territory, including the Crimean Peninsula that was illegally annexed in 2014; the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity; and that Russia be held accountable for war crimes and for Moscow to pay reparations to Kyiv.

Mr Putin outlined the offer during a meeting at the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow (AP)
Mr Putin outlined the offer during a meeting at the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow (AP) (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on social media that there was nothing new in Mr Putin’s proposal and that the Russian leader “voiced only the ‘standard aggressor’s set’, which has been heard many times already.”

“There is no novelty in this, no real peace proposals and no desire to end the war. But there is a desire not to pay for this war and to continue it in new formats. It’s all a complete sham,” Mr Podolyak wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said at Nato headquarters in Brussels that Mr Putin “has illegally occupied sovereign Ukrainian territory. He is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about a peace”.

Mr Austin added that Mr Putin “started this war with no provocation. He could end it today if he chose to do that.”

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg added that “this is not a peace proposal. This is a proposal of more aggression, more occupation, and it demonstrates in a way that that Russia’s aim is to control Ukraine”.

Mr Putin said if “Kyiv and Western capitals” reject his offer, “it is their business, their political and moral responsibility for continuing the bloodshed”.

The Kremlin has repeatedly aired its readiness for peace talks with Kyiv and blamed the West for undermining its efforts to end the conflict.

US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Italy (Alex Brandon/AP)
US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Italy (Alex Brandon/AP) (Alex Brandon/AP)

Mr Putin went further Friday and claimed his troops never intended to storm Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, even though they approached the city.

“In essence, it was nothing other than an operation to force the Ukrainian regime to peace. The troops were there to push the Ukrainian side to negotiate, to try and find an acceptable solution,” he said.

Moscow withdrew from Kyiv in March 2022 and described it a goodwill gesture as peace talks between the two began, but the pullback took place amid fierce Ukrainian resistance that significantly slowed down Russia’s battlefield advances.

Mr Putin also claimed that in that same month, he told a foreign official he was not ruling out withdrawing forces from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and ceding occupied parts of them back to Ukraine, as long as Kyiv allowed Russia to have a “strong land connection” to Crimea.

He said the official planned on bringing that proposal to Kyiv — which Moscow “welcomed,” as it generally welcomed “attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict”.

But the Kremlin then annexed both regions, along with the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, citing the results of sham “referendums” it staged there. Mr Putin mentioned those and said: “The matter is closed forever and is no longer up for discussion.”

In Friday’s fighting, Russian defences shot down 87 Ukrainian drones, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said, most of them launched against the Rostov region, home to Russia’s southern military command, but no deaths or damage were reported in one of the biggest Ukrainian drone barrages of the war.

In Russia’s Belgorod region on the border, part of a residential building collapsed in the town of Shebekino after Ukrainian shelling, Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said. Three people were injured, he said.

Ukraine’s military has been on the back foot in recent months, with its troops outnumbered by the Kremlin’s forces and running short of ammunition and weaponry because of delays in promised Western military aid.

Russia has battered Ukraine with drones, especially its power grid. It fired 14 missiles and 17 Shahed drones overnight, Ukraine’s air force said. Air defence systems downed all the drones as well as seven missiles, it said.

The attacks injured six people in the Donetsk region, where residential buildings were hit, officials said.

A Russian drone struck a bus near the village of Esman in the northern Sumy region, injuring three women. Authorities say 20 passengers were in the bus at the time.

Also on Friday, Russia returned the bodies of 254 Ukrainian soldiers to Ukraine, Kyiv said. Once identified, the bodies will be returned to relatives, according to Ukraine’s Co-ordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.