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How Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks Would Go, According to Zelensky's Adviser

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/9/2022 Brendan Cole
A Ukrainian soldier sits a top of an armored vehicle as it drives to frontline on the outskirts of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on July 30, 2022. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the BBC that his country's forces "will fight to the last Russian on the territory of Ukraine.” © Getty Images A Ukrainian soldier sits a top of an armored vehicle as it drives to frontline on the outskirts of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on July 30, 2022. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the BBC that his country's forces "will fight to the last Russian on the territory of Ukraine.”

An advisor to the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said he doubts Russia would negotiate an end to Vladimir Putin's invasion in good faith.

In an interview with the BBC's Ukrainian service, Mykhailo Podolyak said that Moscow would use talks as an operational pause so it could make up for its shortfall in munitions and technology due to sanctions and then adjust its military strategy.

"Russia is so intellectually predictable," that it would be "obvious" how any negotiations would play out, according to Podolyak. He believes that Russia would seek to start talks with a promise to temporarily stop shelling areas it is trying to seize.

Moscow would then portray the administrations in place in the already captured territories as de facto Russian, and so should be recognized as "lost," a position Ukraine would refuse to accept.

"Then a banal story would take place," he said, according to a translation. This would involve a ceasefire being followed by a Ukrainian counterattack that would inflict blows on Russia.

Moscow in turn would "start shelling our cities again" and through an information campaign, portray itself as the reasonable party in which, "the aggressor is no longer Russia, but Ukraine—because it is Ukraine that does not want to sit at the negotiating table."

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Talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives took place early in the war in the Gomel region of Belarus, followed by a round of negotiations in Turkey. Ankara was crucial to a United Nations plane to export Ukrainian grain after Russia blockaded Black Sea ports, stranding supplies and threatening world food markets.

However, Podolyak told the BBC that any communication channels between Kyiv and Moscow are now "practically non-existent," except when it came to exchanging prisoners or the bodies of those killed.

Podolyak reiterated Zelensky's position that Russia must cease fire and leave Ukrainian territory "in full," including Crimea, which it seized in 2014. Otherwise, any Ukrainian territory remaining in Russian hands "will be a permanent place of provocations."

Russia publicly talks about the terms of any ceasefire as recognizing Moscow's territorial claims, involving Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea.

"Ukraine must win," he said, because "we are on the side that will enable humanity to develop progressively," otherwise if Russian aggression prevails "authoritarian systems... will understand that democracy is not profitable."

"For the sake of freedom, you have to pay any price. And Ukraine is paying it," he added.

On Sunday, Zelensky ruled out future negotiations with Moscow if it held referendums in areas it occupies in Ukraine, which is something that Russian-held areas in the Donbas region have said they would do.

But Podolyak said "there cannot be" any such referendums, which Moscow would use to legitimize their occupations.

When asked what Zelensky would do he had to decide whether to sign a deal to end the conflict to preserve the Ukrainian people, even it was "not on Ukraine's terms," Podolyak replied, "I think we will fight to the last Russian on the territory of Ukraine."

Newsweek has contacted the Russian foreign ministry for comment.

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