Ukrainian Zelenskyy pushes for new security deals without Russia, outside peace talks

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that Russia would not be involved in its latest attempt to establish new security guarantees following Moscow’s failure to comply with the 1994 Budapest memorandum.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine agreed in 1994 to give Russia all of its nuclear warheads in exchange for security guarantees.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacts during a news conference following his talks with the President of the European Council in kyiv on April 20, 2022.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacts during a news conference following his talks with the President of the European Council in kyiv on April 20, 2022.
(SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

The deal was signed by the US, UK, Ukraine and Russia, and by 1996 it had handed over all of its nuclear arsenals in accordance with what became known as the Budapest Memorandum.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February was a flagrant violation of the agreement.

“Today we are considering a range of security guarantors from trusted partner countries. We are developing this project together with them,” Zelenksyy told Ukrainian media.

“We developed it,” he added, noting that Russia was not involved in this round of talks.

The more than three-month-long Russian invasion resulted in the displacement of nearly 13 million Ukrainians and an unknown number of civilian casualties, thousands of whom were reportedly injured and killed.

But Zelenskyy said it was the atrocities uncovered in Bucha after Russian troops withdrew from the area in late March that “changed some things”.

Volunteers transport the bodies of murdered civilians to Bucha on Monday.

Volunteers transport the bodies of murdered civilians to Bucha on Monday.
(AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

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“We want a separate deal,” he said. “Today everything has come to the point where this agreement provides for a circle of partner states around Ukraine without Russia.”

“The guarantors of security without Russia,” he added.

It’s unclear which deal and which countries Zelenskyy was referring to, but a group of 40 senior international defense officials established by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in April at Ramstein Air Base in Germany is expected to increase on Monday.

“Some countries that weren’t present at the first meeting have expressed interest in participating,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “There is no cap, and we would like as many people, as many countries as possible, to participate.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surveys the site of a recent battle in Bucha, near kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022. Russia is facing a fresh wave of condemnation after evidence emerged of what appears to be deliberate killings of civilians in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surveys the site of a recent battle in Bucha, near kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022. Russia is facing a fresh wave of condemnation after evidence emerged of what appears to be deliberate killings of civilians in Ukraine.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

“In its first iteration, you had countries in the Middle East, you had countries in the Indo-Pacific,” he said, referring to what became known as the Contact Group for the defense of Ukraine. “It wasn’t just Europe, and it certainly wasn’t just NATO. There was a real global community of countries there that cared about what was happening in Ukraine.”

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Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s new security agreements with foreign nations should not be a negotiating factor in his peace talks with Russia.

Ukraine’s president said the war would end only through diplomacy, but noted that a deal still seemed a long way off.

“There are things you can’t finish other than at the negotiating table,” he said. “We want to give everything back, the Russian Federation does not want to give everything away.”

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