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Russia was ready to withdraw from southern Ukraine – Putin

Kiev could have retained sovereignty over two of its former regions if it had agreed to guarantee Moscow free land access to Crimea, the president has revealed

Russia was open to withdrawing its troops from Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions early in the Ukraine conflict on the condition that Kiev agreed to an uninterrupted land connection between Crimea and the mainland, President Vladimir Putin stated on Friday.

Speaking at a meeting with the country’s senior diplomats, Putin revealed that in early March 2022, as Russian troops were advancing into southern Ukraine, a senior foreign politician representing the West proposed mediating the conflict between Moscow and Kiev. While Putin did not name the leader, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev identified him as then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

According to the Russian president, Bennett asked officials in Moscow at the time why Russian troops were operating in Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions, given that their stated goal was to help Donbass.

Bennett was told the decision to send Russian troops to those regions was made based on the plans drawn by the General Staff, which sought to bypass heavily fortified Ukrainian positions in Donbass, Putin explained. According to the Russian leader, when Bennett asked whether Russian troops would remain in Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions after the end of the conflict, Putin said he was open to the idea of pulling them back to their bases.

“I replied that, in general, I do not rule out that Ukraine will retain its sovereignty over these territories, provided that Russia will have a solid land connection to Crimea.”

Putin noted that to secure the guarantee, Moscow and Kiev would have to sign a legally binding “servitude” agreement, a property law that ties rights and obligations to the ownership or possession of land.

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The deal would then have to be finalized with the involvement of the UN Security Council, as well as local citizens and the Russian public.

However, when Bennett traveled to Kiev to present Moscow’s proposal to the Ukrainian government, it was rejected, and the Israeli leader was branded a Russian sympathizer, Putin noted.

Now, this proposal is off the table, given that Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions, along with the two Donbass republics, voted to join Russia in public referendums in the fall of 2022, Putin stated. “There can be no talk of violating our national unity… This question is closed forever and beyond any debate.”

At the same time, Putin signaled that Moscow was ready for talks with Ukraine on the condition that Kiev fully withdraws its troops from Donbass, Kherson, and Zaporozhye regions and abandons plans to join NATO. But the proposal has been rejected by Kiev, which insists upon returning the country to its 1991 borders.

June 14, 2024 at 08:05PM

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