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Ukraine war: West would accept Russian retreat to Crimea as sign of Putin’s commitment to peace talks

The i 06/12/2022 David Parsley

Vladimir Putin must withdraw Russian forces to territory held on the eve of the war in Ukraine if peace talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky have any chance of taking place, western officials believe.

He must also cease his “indiscriminate” bombing of Ukraine.

The call means the West would back peace talks if Putin’s forces still occupied Crimea and the positions on the borders of south east Ukraine on 23 February.

President Zelensky has, however, consistently insisted that Russia must exit all territory before any talks could take place, including Crimea.

According to western officials the basis on which peace talks can begin is “absolutely a matter for the Ukrainians”, but that for the West “the absolute minimum necessary to demonstrate that Russia was serious about negotiating would be to withdraw to the positions that they occupied on the 23 February”.

“The long-standing issues of Crimea and the status of the Donbas might be something which is spoken about thereafter,” the officials added.

However, the officials added that they had seen “no evidence to date that Russia has any interest in negotiating in good faith”.

The prospect of Russia retaining its occupation of Crimea during any peace talks with Kyiv is the first time the West has hinted at such a potential solution to the war that could offer Putin a face-saving exit from the conflict.

Russia annexed Crimea during an illegal invasion in 2014. While Putin claims the region as part of Russia the international community and the United Nations insists it remains part of Ukraine.

Last weekend Putin demanded that the West recognises the four regions in Ukraine that he has annexed after sham referenda before peace talks can go ahead.

Putin’s offer, which was rejected immediately by President Zelensky, came after US President Joe Biden said he was prepared to speak with Putin if “he’s looking for a way to end the war”.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will not agree to peace talks until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea (Photo: Ukraine Presidency/AFP via Getty Images) © Provided by The i President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will not agree to peace talks until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea (Photo: Ukraine Presidency/AFP via Getty Images) Smoke rises from Russia’s Kursk airport outside Kursk, as Moscow claims a third Ukrainian drone attack this week (Photo: Administration of the Kursk region of Russia via AP) © Provided by The i Smoke rises from Russia’s Kursk airport outside Kursk, as Moscow claims a third Ukrainian drone attack this week (Photo: Administration of the Kursk region of Russia via AP)

Talk of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine come as Putin and his military chiefs assess the impact of attacks on airfields deep inside Russian territory this week, which have caused the West to question the capability of Putin’s air defences.

Three Russian servicemen were killed and four injured in the attacks on the Dyagilevo airbase in the Ryazan region and the Engels airfield in Saratov. Long-range strategic bombers are believed to be based at the airfields.

There is speculation that the attacks were from drones launched from Ukraine, although this has not been confirmed and it is not known if Ukraine has drones capable of such strikes.

A third Russian airfield was ablaze on Tuesday after what local officials claimed was another drone strike from Ukraine.

Officials in the Russian city of Kursk, located close to Ukraine, released pictures of black smoke above an airfield after the latest strike.

Western officials believe that if the attacks on the airfield were confirmed to be by Ukraine, they would be considered legal as they were not targeting civilians, unlike Russia’s strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

The West also believes that the airfield attacks will fuel anti-war sentiment in Russia further, and will sew doubt in the minds of Putin’s generals, especially given that the Dyagilevo base is just 130 miles from the Kremlin.

It is also understood that Russia is low on missiles and ran out of Iranian-supplied drones entirely around three weeks ago, but is awaiting a new shipment from Tehran.

The West also believes Putin has set aside a stockpile of missile in the event that NATO is dragged into the war.

The West believes Putin’s targeting of civilian infrastructure is “a sign of Putin’s increasing desperation” and a recognition that his military objectives are failing.

“The object is to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” claimed Western Officials. “But if he calculates that that is the result, he is mistaken. The result has only been to strengthen Ukrainian resolve.”

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