Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said ahead of the latest round of in-person talks between Kyiv and Moscow on Monday that his country is prepared to declare neutrality from NATO, a move that would fulfill one of Russia's long-standing demands.
"Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it," Zelenskyy said in a video call with several Russian reporters ahead of a fresh round of negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian diplomats in Turkey. The four Russian journalists involved in the call were reportedly ordered not to publish the Ukrainian president's remarks.
Zelenskyy stressed, however, that a final peace agreement can't be reached without a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops, whose assault on major Ukrainian cities has entered its second month, worsening a massive humanitarian catastrophe that has reverberated worldwide.
"We are looking for peace, really, without delay," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the Ukrainian public, reiterating that any negotiated deal will be put to the country's people for a referendum. "There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey."
"Our priorities in the negotiations are known," he continued. "Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity are beyond doubt. Effective security guarantees for our state are mandatory. Our goal is obvious—peace and the restoration of normal life in our native state as soon as possible."
In recent weeks, Ukrainian and Russian delegations have reportedly made progress toward a 15-point peace plan that would include Kyiv renouncing its ambitions of NATO membership in exchange for security assurances, but it's unclear how far apart the two sides are heading into the new round of talks.
Over the weekend, despite some indications that Moscow may be narrowing its military ambitions in Ukraine, Russian forces "stepped up [their] missile attacks on fuel and food depots, hitting Lviv, close to the Polish border, as well as Lutsk, Zhytomyr, and Rivne in the west and Kharkiv in the east," according to the Financial Times.
"Around 30 separate strikes were reported on the Kyiv region over the past day," FT noted.
On Sunday, hours before diplomatic talks were slated to begin in Istanbul, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call to pursue "a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, the implementation of peace, and the improvement of humanitarian conditions in the region."