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Ukraine May Be Willing to Hold Talks on Crimea, Suggests Zelenskiy Adviser

Ukraine may be willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskiy has suggested.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Andriy Sybiha, the deputy head of the president’s office, expressed Kyiv’s interest in negotiations should Ukrainian forces reach the region’s administrative border as a result of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive many expect will begin in the coming months.

“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open a diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” Sybiha said. He added: “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.”

It was unclear how serious Sybiha’s remarks were or whether they might represent disinformation to lead Moscow to believe Kyiv’s coming offensive will focus on the south in the direction of Crimea following previous successful military deception efforts by Kyiv last year.

With Ukraine under continuing Russian pressure in the eastern city of Bakhmut, and Zelenskiy once again hinting at the potential for a withdrawal there, the remarks may also be aimed at bolstering Ukrainian public morale by projecting confidence over any counteroffensive’s likelihood for success.

The comments by Sybiha, a diplomat, appeared to represent a U-turn on Zelenskiy’s previous statements in which he ruled out peace talks until Russian forces left all of Ukraine, including the Russian-occupied Crimea.

Crimea has been under Russian occupation since February 2014 and was illegally annexed by Moscow the following month after a mock referendum.

The comments came amid a continuing military buildup by Kyiv ahead of its anticipated spring offensive, with the arrival of western tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

With Ukraine still pushing for the supply of extra fighter jets that many analysts say it needs to pursue its wider military ambitions, Zelenskiy, during a visit to Warsaw, said Poland would help form a coalition of western powers to supply warplanes to Kyiv.

Describing Poland as having been instrumental in getting western allies to send battle tanks to Ukraine, he said he believed it could play the same role in a “planes coalition”.

His comments came as the Polish government said it would send 10 more MiG fighter jets on top of four provided earlier, but there has been no agreement from the US or Ukraine’s other major military backers to send F-16 fighters that Kyiv has requested.

In addition to MiG-29s, Ukraine has pressed Nato for F-16 jet fighters, but a Polish foreign policy adviser, Marcin Przydacz, indicated Poland would not decide soon on whether to send any.

Meanwhile, on the frontlines, Zelenskiy said Ukrainian troops faced a difficult situation in the battle for Bakhmut and the military would take “corresponding” decisions to protect them if they were in danger of being encircled by Russian forces.

“We are in Bakhmut and the enemy does not control it,” Zelenskiy said, contradicting claims by Russian forces that they had captured the city, in ruins after months of attritional warfare and bombardment.

Ukraine’s military said in an update early on Thursday that Russian forces were storming Bakhmut with the intention of taking full control of it, adding that the city, along with the towns of Avdiivka and Marinka to the south-west, were “the epicentre of hostilities”.

However, the head of Russia’s private Wagner group militia said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces were not abandoning the city. “It must be said clearly that the enemy is not going anywhere,” he said on his Telegram channel.

He said Ukrainian troops had organised staunch defences inside the city, particularly along railway lines and in high-rise buildings in the west, and that if they fell back they would take up new positions in the outskirts and in Chasiv Yar to the west.

The battle for Bakhmut, one of the last urban centres yet to fall to Russia in eastern Donetsk province, has proven one of the bloodiest of Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian military commanders have stressed the importance of holding it and other cities and inflicting losses on Russian troops before the anticipated counteroffensive.

On the diplomatic front, the Kremlin on Thursday said it saw no “prospect” for China to mediate the Ukraine conflict and said it had “no other way” than to press on with its offensive.

The comments came as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited Beijing to try to dissuade China from supporting Moscow’s campaign.

“Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation,” said the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov. “But the situation with Ukraine is complex, so far there are no prospects for a political settlement.”

Source : The Guardian