Russia can halt offensive right away if Kiev agrees to Moscow’s terms – Kremlin

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Kremlin spokesman says Russia wants Ukraine’s neutrality, recognition of Crimea, and independence for Donbass republics

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters on Tuesday that Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine will stop “in a moment” if Kiev meets several key conditions. Russia wants Ukraine to enshrine neutrality in its constitution, acknowledge Crimea as Russian, and recognize Donetsk and Lugansk republics as independent states.

“They should make amendments to their constitution according to which Ukraine would reject any aims to enter any bloc,” Peskov said. 

This demand is key, as a course toward NATO accession was written into Ukraine’s constitution in 2019. Ukraine’s membership in the Western alliance is considered an unacceptable security threat by Moscow, and the bloc’s expansion has been compared by President Vladimir Putin to the idea of Russia placing missiles on the US border in Canada or Mexico. During multiple rounds of negotiations leading up to Russia’s offensive, Western leaders repeatedly refused to rule out NATO membership for Ukraine.

Peskov told Reuters that Russia is not seeking to make any further territorial claims on Ukraine, but wants Kiev to recognize Crimea as Russian territory. Considered Russian land since Imperial times, Crimea was an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union until it was ceded to the Ukrainian SSR by Nikita Kruschev in 1954. Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, after several ballot-box attempts by its population to break away from Ukraine following the end of the USSR.

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After amending its constitution and recognizing Russian sovereignty, Ukraine needs to “recognise that Donetsk and Lugansk [republics] are independent states. And that’s it. It will stop in a moment,” Peskov stated.

Ukrainian forces have waged a military campaign against both breakaway regions, collectively known as the Donbass, since 2014. Russia has accused the Ukrainians of carrying out a “genocide” against Russian-speakers in the Donbass, and Putin recognized the two republics last month, a day before launching what he called a “military operation” to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine.

“We really are finishing the demilitarization of Ukraine. We will finish it,” Peskov told Reuters. “But the main thing is that Ukraine ceases its military action. They should stop their military action and then no one will shoot,” he said.

Two rounds of negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officials have failed to bring about a resolution to the conflict, which has now been raging for 12 days. On Monday,  delegations from Moscow and Kiev arrived in Belarus for a third round of talks, while Russian forces announced a ceasefire in several cities to allow refugees to escape. Two previous ceasefires fell apart almost immediately as both sides accused each other of violations. Ukraine has criticized Russia’s latest humanitarian plan, calling it “immoral” as the routes were leading toward Russia and Belarus.

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