Ukraine renewed Western hopes for peace talks last night after suggesting it could be ‘ready’ to discuss the future of Crimea with Russia once Kyiv‘s forces reached the border of Putin’s illegally occupied peninsula.

Andriy Sybiha, a top advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky and deputy head of his office, told the Financial Times that Kyiv could soon be ‘ready’ to enter talks.

This is the first time such discussions have been entertained by Ukraine since it broke off talks with Moscow in April last year, two months after Putin sent his forces over the border to topple Zelensky’s Government.

But the news came as a series of loud explosions were heard in the occupied city of Melitopol on Wednesday, as Russian collaborators warned that Kyiv’s spring offensive was starting to get underway.

The southern city, known as the ‘Gateway to Crimea’ in the Zaporizhzhia region, reported blasts yesterday but did not provide further detail.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech in the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday. He is pictured with his wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech in the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday. He is pictured with his wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday

A view of a street at night in Simferopol, Crimea on March 17, 2023

A view of a street at night in Simferopol, Crimea on March 17, 2023

Speaking to the FT, Sybiha said: ‘If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue.’

But he stressed: ‘It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.’

Western officials are largely sceptical of the potential for Kyiv’s forces to reclaim the peninsula and fear it would only lead to a potential nuclear escalation of the war. Sybiha’s remarks suggesting an openness for talks may now relieve those officials. 

Peace talks have been categorically ruled out by Ukraine so far until all Russian troops have left its territory.

The signaling of potential talks comes as Ukraine readies itself for its Spring counter-offensive amid continued fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut.

British defence attaché in Washington, Rear Admiral Tim Woods, Kyiv needed ‘a political solution because of just the concentration of force that is there and what it would mean for the Ukrainians to go in there’.

He told the FT: ‘I don’t think there’s going to be a very quick military solution… hence we need to see what are favourable conditions for Ukraine to negotiate and I think Ukraine would be up for that.’

Following the invasion in February last year, Ukraine was open to negotiations with Russia over the future of Crimea. But since then, communication between Kyiv and Moscow has only centred around prisoner exchange and returning Ukrainian children who were detained and moved to Russia.

Kyiv also broke off any potential for talks after the discovery of alleged Russian war crimes in Bucha, Kyiv, in March 2022.

Flame and smoke rise from Crimean Bridge after what Russian authorities said was a bomb caused fire and partial collapse of the bridge, in Kerch, Crimea, October 8, 2022

Flame and smoke rise from Crimean Bridge after what Russian authorities said was a bomb caused fire and partial collapse of the bridge, in Kerch, Crimea, October 8, 2022

Ukrainian service member from 28th mechanised brigade launches an RPG at the frontline, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine in the region of Bakhmut on Wednesday

Ukrainian service member from 28th mechanised brigade launches an RPG at the frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine in the region of Bakhmut on Wednesday

Ukrainian service member from 28th mechanised brigade adjust his communication unite before heading to the frontline in Bakhmut, Wednesday

Ukrainian service member from 28th mechanised brigade adjust his communication unite before heading to the frontline in Bakhmut, Wednesday

Ukrainian service member repositions his machine gun during a fire exchange at the frontline, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine in the region of Bakhmut, Wednesday

Ukrainian service member repositions his machine gun during a fire exchange at the frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine in the region of Bakhmut, Wednesday

But despite the openness for talks, Zelensky has recently been clear that Ukraine is interested in seeing all its land returned, including annexed Crimea.

Crimea has been under Russian occupation since 2014 following a Kremlin mock referendum.

Amid the news, the ousted Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov – who was elected in 2020 before his removal by the Russians – said blasts were heard in the southern city.

‘Collaborators of the temporarily occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region have sounded the alarm. It turns out that the orcs are abandoning their own,’ Fedorov reported.

Zelensky made a rare foreign visit to Warsaw in a show of thanks for Poland's support since the start of Russia's offensive on Wednesday

Zelensky made a rare foreign visit to Warsaw in a show of thanks for Poland’s support since the start of Russia’s offensive on Wednesday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses wellwishers in the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses wellwishers in the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after addressing a Polish-Ukrainian economic forum in Warsaw

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after addressing a Polish-Ukrainian economic forum in Warsaw

Earlier on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin accused Western security services of having helped Kyiv stage ‘terror attacks’ in Russia, after giving an icy welcome to the new US and EU ambassadors.

Zelensky meanwhile made a rare foreign visit to Warsaw in a show of thanks for Poland’s support since the start of Russia’s offensive.

Putin spoke at a meeting of the Kremlin’s security council dedicated to ensuring law and order in four Ukrainian territories he claimed to have annexed last year.

‘There are grounds to assert’ that other countries and Western intelligence services were involved ‘in staging sabotage and terrorist attacks’, Putin said in televised remarks.

In what appeared to be a reference to the Ukrainian authorities, Putin said ‘neo-Nazis and their accomplices were acting’ in Russia as well as the annexed territories including the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Putin’s remarks come days after an explosion at a cafe in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg, killed a high-profile military blogger and staunch supporter of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, Vladlen Tatarsky.

Moscow said the attack had been orchestrated by Ukraine with help from supporters of jailed critic Alexei Navalny. Kyiv has blamed it on Russia’s domestic infighting.

But Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday the blogger’s death would be ‘one of the topics of discussion’ at the UN Security Council, where Moscow has taken over the rotating presidency.

Hours earlier, Putin had received the new foreign ambassadors to Moscow at a ceremony in the Kremlin.

He told US ambassador Lynne Tracy that Washington was responsible for the ‘Ukrainian crisis’, adding that ties between Russia and the United States were in ‘deep crisis’.

Putin also told the new EU envoy to Moscow, Roland Galharague, that the bloc instigated ‘geopolitical confrontation’ with Moscow.

Polish President Andrzej Duda (second right) and his wife Agata (right) wave to wellwishers alongside Zelensky (second left) and his wife Olena (left) at the Royal Castle in Warsaw

Polish President Andrzej Duda (second right) and his wife Agata (right) wave to wellwishers alongside Zelensky (second left) and his wife Olena (left) at the Royal Castle in Warsaw

Also on Wednesday, Russian state media cited the FSB security service as saying that it detained a pilot of a Ukrainian light aircraft that crashed in the southern Bryansk region that borders Ukraine.

‘The aircraft, for unknown reasons, crashed near the settlement of Butovsk in Bryansk region. The pilot (a citizen of Ukraine), who tried to escape to Ukrainian territory, was detained by a border patrol,’ the FSB was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.

In Warsaw, Zelensky expressed Ukraine’s gratitude to Poland, one of its staunchest backers since Russia’s offensive, providing it with weapons and welcoming refugees.

‘Today we are trying to get for Ukraine… additional guarantees, security guarantees, which will strengthen Ukraine’s military potential,’ Polish President Andrzej Duda said after talks with Zelensky.

These guarantees are an ‘introduction to Ukraine’s full membership in NATO’, Duda added, saying Poland ‘firmly’ supported Kyiv’s bid to join the alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a ceremony to receive credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia at the Kremlin on Wedneday

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a ceremony to receive credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia at the Kremlin on Wedneday

Putin sits with Leonid Pasechnik, head of the Russian-controlled Luhansk region, and Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Russian-controlled Kherson region, at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday

Putin sits with Leonid Pasechnik, head of the Russian-controlled Luhansk region, and Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Russian-controlled Kherson region, at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday

Putin has used Ukraine’s desire to join NATO to justify Russia’s military operation there, though Ukraine was a long way from joining when fighting started in February 2022.

Zelensky thanked Poland for supporting Kyiv’s efforts to enter both the European Union and NATO.

‘I would like to convey to our partners, who are constantly looking for compromises on our way to NATO, that Ukraine will be uncompromising in this as well,’ Zelensky said.

Poland, Ukraine’s western neighbour, became the first NATO member to pledge the MiG-29 fighter jets that Ukraine had been calling for.

Warsaw said on Monday it had transferred some of its already promised fighter jets to Ukraine, after fellow NATO member Slovakia announced it had shipped an initial batch of its own.

‘I think that in the future we will be able to transfer our whole remaining fleet of MiG-29s to Ukraine, if there is still such a need,’ Duda said of the 28 MiG-29 jets in Poland’s possession.

He would require NATO’s authorisation for such a move, he added.



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