Scepticism urged over peace talks as Ukraine stands firm on giving up territory

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said any accord with Russia needs to be on ‘Ukraine’s terms’.

20 March 2022

The West needs to have a “degree of scepticism” about the prospect of a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine, according to the Chancellor, as Kyiv looked to stand firm against giving up territory in a settlement.

Rishi Sunak said any accord with Moscow needs to be on “Ukraine’s terms” as he pledged the UK will “maintain the significant pressure that we are bringing to bear” on Russian President Vladimir Putin following his invasion.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky last week said Russian demands in talks between the warring nations were becoming “more realistic” as Kyiv continues to push for a ceasefire.

But Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has expressed fear that Mr Putin could be using the negotiations as a “smokescreen” to prepare for an even more brutal assault.

Speaking on Sunday, the Chancellor said it is “encouraging” that discussions are under way but the West has to be on its guard.

Mr Sunak told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “You have to have some degree of scepticism about it given the track record of these things.

“I think the most important thing is that any talk of a settlement must be on Ukraine’s terms.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was asked about the Ukraine crisis during interviews on Sunday
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was asked about the Ukraine crisis during interviews on Sunday (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“And the best thing we can do is just maintain the significant pressure that we are bringing to bear on Putin, but also providing support to the Ukrainians in the meantime – that’s the best we can do and the Ukrainians will take the lead.”

An official in Mr Zelensky’s office told the Associated Press that the main subject discussed between the two sides last week was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would lie.

But a Ukraine politician said while her country is open to further meetings with Russia, it is not prepared to give up land to the aggressor.

Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told Sky News that re-drawing Ukraine’s borders is “absolutely not” being considered.

“Ukrainian territory is a territory which has been fixed (since) 1991,” she said.

“That is not an option for discussion.”

According to reports, Kyiv has insisted on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations with the Kremlin and on legally binding security guarantees for Ukraine.

Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, being interviewed by host Sophie Raworth on the BBC One current affairs programme
Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, was interviewed by Sophie Raworth on BBC One (Jeff Overs/BBC)

Asked whether the UK would act as a security guarantor to the Ukrainians as part of any peace deal, Mr Sunak – who confirmed his family will not be taking in a Ukrainian refugee – said it is “probably a bit too early to get into the details” of what an agreement might look like.

It comes as an art school housing 400 people taking shelter from Russian shelling was bombed by Moscow’s military, according to officials in the besieged city of Mariupol, which is facing a humanitarian disaster.

Local authorities said on Sunday that the school building was destroyed and people may be trapped under the rubble.

There was no immediate word on casualties, with rescuers still working to attempt to free survivors from a separate earlier attack on a theatre in the city where more than 1,000 people were said to have been bunkered.

A former head of UK defence intelligence has predicted Mr Putin’s troops are likely to “double down on brute force” after seeing their campaign heavily stall.

Air Marshal Philip Osborn said Russian forces are “demoralised because they were poorly prepared and proven to be inadequate”, and are now stalled because they have “lost momentum”.

He told Sophy Ridge: “We are seeing them pull resources and manpower from across Russia, even from Syria, and that is not a good indication for a supposed superpower.

(PA Graphics)

“They are stalled because they are running out of options.”

The Russian military confirmed on Sunday it had used a long-range hypersonic weapon for a second time, as it looked to target Ukrainian military facilities.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostiantynivka, near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv.

The strike marked the second day in a row that Russia has used the Kinzhal, a weapon capable of striking targets 1,250 miles away at a speed 10 times the speed of sound.

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson has urged China to get off the fence and join in global condemnation of Russia’s invasion.

The Prime Minister, in comments made to the Sunday Times, said he believes some in Xi Jinping’s administration are having “second thoughts” about the neutral stance adopted by Beijing following Russia’s actions against its neighbour.

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