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Ukraine could negotiate on Crimea, top Zelenskyy adviser suggests

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (The Presidential Office of Ukraine)
April 07, 2023

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has indicated potential willingness to negotiate over the future of Crimea, an occupied peninsula Zelenskyy previously vowed to reclaim amid the Russian invasion.

The Financial Times reported that the deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Sybiha, told the outlet Ukraine would consider discussions about Crimea if its forces reached the peninsula’s border during a counter-offensive expected this spring.

“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, adding, “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.”

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The comment marks the clearest interest Ukraine has shown in negotiations in the last year, FT reported. It is also a significant concession on what has long been a goal of the Ukrainian resistance and counters promises from Zelenskyy, such as in October when he said, “We will definitely liberate Crimea.” 

Crimea has been occupied by Russia since being illegally annexed in 2014 and hosts a naval base critical for its Black Sea fleet. The strategic peninsula has been heavily fortified under Russia’s control, and miles of trenches have been dug in recent weeks, the Washington Post reported.

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Though fighting has not spilled onto Crimea since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, it has been a staging ground for Russian forces, and the sole bridge linking Russia to the peninsula was bombed in October. 

In May, Zelenskyy suggested the Crimea issue could be handled via diplomacy if Russia retreated to pre-invasion positions, FT reported. 

Peace talks largely stalled last spring. A recently proposal by China called for a ceasefire and resumption of talks, but was condemned by U.S. officials as biased toward Russia.