Speaking to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos through video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he is willing to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end hostilities.
Addressing industry luminaries and international politicians, Zelensky said that arranging talks with Russia has become more difficult in light of what he called evidence of Russian actions against civilians under occupation — a claim that Russia fervently denies.
Russia has maintained that it is not targeting civilians and that its purpose in Ukraine is to degrade Ukraine’s military capabilities in a push for the country to declare neutrality and reject joining the NATO military alliance.
“The president of the Russian Federation decides it all,” said Zelensky through an interpreter, per Reuters. “If we are talking about ending this war without him personally, that decision cannot be taken.”
The Ukrainian President said that the discovery of mass killings in areas occupied by Russian forces earlier in the war made it a challenge for him to arrange any discussions in good faith with his Russian counterparts.
Zelensky has also ruled out any negotiations with other officials in the Russian government.
“I cannot accept any kind of meeting with anyone coming from the Russian Federation but the president,” he said. “And only in the case when there is one issue on the (table): stopping the war. There are no other grounds for any other kind of meeting.”
Since the onset of the conflict in March, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have held sporadic talks to establish ceasefire corridors for the sake of sparing the civilian population the worst of the violence.
However, both sides say that discussions for a broader peace have stalled.
Speaking to the audience, Zelensky said that Ukrainians have paid a heavy toll since the invasion, suggesting that despite the human cost, Ukraine’s forces have made some gains near Kharkiv, but that “the bloodiest situation remains in Donbas where we are losing too many people.”
Zelensky also reversed his position on recapturing Crimea, which declared independence from Ukraine and joined Russia in 2014, stating that any effort to recover the Crimean peninsula by force would cost untold lives.