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Zelensky open to Ukrainian ‘neutrality’ and negotiations over Donbas

After enduring weeks of relentless Russian shelling, Lidia Hrytsunyak, 77, was finally able to flee the city of Irpin, Ukraine, through a safe corridor to Kyiv. (Video: Jon Gerberg, Alice Li/The Washington Post, Photo: Heidi Levine for The Washington Post/The Washington Post)
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As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on with little progress in negotiations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a new interview that he is open to a compromise involving Ukrainian “neutrality” and guarantees for his country’s security.

But Zelensky suggested the Ukrainian people would need to vote on such compromises, and he called on Russia to remove its forces beforehand in a lengthy interview with Russian journalists published Sunday. “A referendum is impossible when there is the presence of troops,” he said, adding that any result from an occupied country would be “illegitimate.”

Ukraine voted in 2014 to drop its “neutral” status and seek NATO membership after Russia attacked and annexed Crimea. But Zelensky said recently that joining NATO appears impossible, with the Kremlin viewing any expansion of the Western alliance as a threat.

Zelensky acknowledged in the new interview that Moscow would not liberate all contested territory and suggested further negotiations over “the complex issue of Donbas,” the eastern Ukrainian region where pro-Russian separatists have fought for years. In a video posted later to Telegram, Zelensky said, “We are looking for peace, really. Without delay.”

Here’s what to know

  • Russia’s communications regulator warned Russian media not to publish the interview with the Ukrainian president and said it will investigate outlets that conducted it. “They destroyed freedom of speech in their state,” Zelensky responded in a video address.
  • President Biden said Sunday that he is not advocating regime change in Moscow, echoing aides who have scrambled to clarify Biden’s unscripted comment a day earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” French President Emmanuel Macron warned against “escalation of words and actions” after Biden’s comments drew worldwide attention.
  • The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence accused Russia on Sunday of trying to divide his country in two — “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine” — with the eastern part controlled by Russia.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.