Zelensky: Concessions to Russia Will Require Ukrainian Referendum

Demonstrators wave Ukraine national flags as they gather in central Kiev on October 6, 201
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Any political or territorial compromises Kyiv potentially makes with Moscow to negotiate a peace deal between the warring sides will be submitted to the Ukrainian people in a referendum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (Suspilne) on Monday.

In an interview with the Ukrainian government-funded broadcaster on March 21, Zelensky said:

I explained to all negotiating groups; when you talk about all these changes, and they can be historic, we will not go anywhere, we will come to a referendum. The people will have to say and respond to certain formats of compromise. And what they will be.

This is a matter of our conversation and understanding between Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, in any case, I am ready to do anything if my move is with our people.

Suspilne gave as examples of concessions that might theoretically be submitted to a public referendum as the offering of “security guarantees” and negotiations surrounding “the temporarily [Russian] occupied territories of Donbass and Crimea.”

“The all-Ukrainian referendum will finally resolve the compromises in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. This applies to security guarantees, the temporarily occupied territories of Donbass and Crimea,” the news outlet summarized in its opening paragraph.

The broadcaster quoted Zelensky’s explanation of how some allies in NATO could support Ukraine through a “security guarantee”: “There are NATO countries, who want to be security guarantors, who, unfortunately, cannot give us 100% membership in the [NATO] Alliance, but are ready to do everything that the Alliance would have to do if we were members of the Alliance. And I think this is a normal compromise.”

Zelensky did not explain how he or his administration planned to organize a public referendum of Ukrainians while his nation remains at full-scale war with Russia. An estimated ten million people have fled fighting in Ukraine over the past few weeks.

Russia has used referendums in Ukraine for years to achieve its goals of annexing territory from its western neighbor. Moscow conducted a referendum in Ukraine’s southern peninsular region of Crimea in March 2014 that saw its residents vote to become a part of Russia. Moscow organized a similar referendum in May 2014 in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) in which the two Russian-backed breakaway states in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region voted to legitimize their respective establishments as sovereign “republics.” The results of both 2014 referendums were not recognized as legitimate by most Western governments.

Ukrainian government representatives have engaged in several attempted peace talks with their Russian counterparts since the latest war between the two neighbors broke out on February 24. The conflict began 72 hours after the Kremlin announced it would recognize the independence of the DPR and LPR.

Moscow has held several failed peace negotiations with Kyiv over the past month. The first three rounds of talks took place along the Belarus-Ukraine border on February 28March 3, and March 7.

Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, helped organize the first high-level peace talks between Russia and Ukraine on March 10 in Antalya, Turkey. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in the presence of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who served as a mediator.

“At a time of great need for peace, met with my Russian and Ukrainian counterparts (Sergey) Lavrov & (Dmytro) Kuleba in a tripartite format on the margins of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum,” Cavusoglu said in a Twitter statement at the time.

“We sincerely hope that peace prevails in our region. We will continue our efforts for diplomacy between Russia and Ukraine,” he added.

The fourth official round of peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine took place online via virtual sessions from March 14 to March 17.

Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on March 18 a “ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and strict security guarantees with specific formulas” were Ukraine’s central demands of Russia during their latest round of talks.


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