Putin calls for ceasefire on current frontlines, ‘will fight on’ if West, Ukraine don’t respond: Sources

Russia, Vladimir Putin
Image Source : REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to halt the over three-year-long war with Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognises the current battlefield lines, but will continue to fight on if Kyiv and Western countries do not respond, four Russian sources told Reuters. This comes as Ukraine faces a shortage of weapons and ammunition as Russian forces continue to advance on the battlefield.

According to three Russian sources familiar with Putin’s plans, the 71-year-old leader had expressed frustration to a small group of advisers about what he views as Western-backed attempts to block negotiations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision to rule out talks. “Putin can fight for as long as it takes, but Putin is also ready for a ceasefire – to freeze the war,” said one of the sources.

Putin on Friday said peace talks should restart. “Let them resume,” he said, adding that negotiations should be based on “the realities on the ground” and on a plan agreed during a previous attempt to reach a deal in the first weeks of the war. “Not on the basis of what one side wants,” he said. Putin’s comments come before the highly-anticipated peace summit in Switzerland in June.

Responding to Putin’s remarks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian President was trying to derail the Ukrainian-initiated peace summit in Switzerland by using his entourage to send out “phony signals” about his alleged readiness to halt the war. “Putin currently has no desire to end his aggression against Ukraine. Only the principled and united voice of the global majority can force him to choose peace over war,” said Kuleba.

Putin’s peace proposals cannot be trusted: Ukraine

Ukraine has opposed any peace talks on Putin’s terms, with Zelenskyy pledging to retake lost territory, including Crimea that was annexed in 2014. He signed a decree in 2022 that formally declared any talks with Putin “impossible.” Kyiv says Putin, whose team repeatedly denied he was planning a war before invading Ukraine in 2022, cannot be trusted to honour any deal.

However, the sources said that Putin, re-elected in March for a new six-year term, would rather use Russia’s current momentum to put the war behind him. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskovv said the country did not want “eternal war.” Two of the sources said Putin believed that gains in the war so far were enough to sell a war to the Russian people, while three others said Putin understood that new advances would require another nationwide mobilisation, which he did not want.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has ballooned into Europe’s biggest ground conflict since World War II, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and leading to sweeping Western sanctions on Russia’s economy. Putin’s popularity fell by several points during the first nationwide mobilisation, where hundreds of thousands of draft-age men were forced to leave the country, spooking the population.

Remote chances of ceasefire

Putin’s conditions for a ceasefire include several elements that Ukraine considers as non-starters. For one, sources said that his insistence on locking in any battlefield gains in a deal is non-negotiable, although he would be ready to settle for what land he has now and freeze the conflict at the current front lines. Freezing the conflict along current lines would leave Russia in possession of substantial chunks of four Ukrainian regions he formally incorporated into Russia in September 2022, but without full control of any of them.

One of the sources predicted no agreement could happen while Zelenskyy was in power, unless Russia bypassed him and struck a deal with Washington. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Kyiv last week, told reporters he did not believe Putin was interested in serious negotiations. Washington has insisted that any initiative for peace must respect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity, within its internationally recognised borders”.

“The Kremlin has yet to demonstrate any meaningful interest in ending its war, quite the opposite,” said a spokesperson for the US State Department. Chances of a ceasefire thus appear fairly remote. Another factor playing into the Kremlin chief’s view that the war should end is that the longer it drags on, the more battle-hardened veterans return to Russia, dissatisfied with post-war job and income prospects, potentially creating tensions in society.

Russian forces control around 18 per cent of Ukraine and this month thrust into the northeastern region of Kharkiv. Putin is counting on Russia’s large population compared to Ukraine to sustain superior manpower even without a mobilisation, bolstered by unusually generous pay packets for those who sign up.

US and European leaders have said they will stand by Ukraine until its security sovereignty is guaranteed. NATO countries and allies say they are trying to accelerate deliveries of weapons. The Swiss peace summit in June is aimed at unifying international opinion on how to end the war, however, Russia said the talks are not credible without it being there.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has announced an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine as Kyiv struggles to hold off advances by Russian troops in the Kharkiv region. The package includes high-mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, munitions as well 155 mm and 105 mm high-demand artillery rounds. Additional items in the aid package include Javelin and AT-4 antitank systems; antitank mines, tactical vehicles, small arms and ammunition for those weapons.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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