President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said on Sunday he was ready to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin but not willing to yield on his nation’s territorial integrity.
Speaking through an interpreter on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” he said: “I am ready for negotiations with him. I was ready over the last two years, and I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war.”
“If there is just 1 percent chance for us to stop this war,” he added, “I think that we need to take this chance, we need to do that.”
Ukraine’s president also warned that talks were the best hope to avert a third world war.
Zelenskyy’s nation continues to hold off a Russian military that was widely believed to be one of the most powerful in the world but has suffered extensive casualties, some of it from Russian airstrikes on civilian targets.
During the interview with Zakaria, he displayed a wide range of emotions, including defiance in the face of the invasion, pride in how his nation has responded, frustration with other world leaders for not taking his previous warnings about Russia seriously, concern about what Russian President Vladimir Putin might do next, and despair over the losses that his nation is suffering. “Unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve lives,” he said at one point.
In discussing negotiations, Zelenskyy said that his nation was willing to make only limited compromises, but not the handing over of territory his citizens are fighting so hard to retain. He said his nation would need “security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country” in order to agree to stop the fighting.
“There are compromises for which we cannot be ready as an independent state,” he said. “Any compromises related to our territorial integrity and our sovereignty, and the Ukrainian people have spoken about it — they have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers, they have greeted them with bravery, they have greeted them with weapons in their hands.”
Zelenskyy, who became president in 2019, also said that he had been saying for years that Ukraine deserved to be fully integrated into Europe, as a member of both NATO and the European Union. He said even the promise of those things could have helped block Russian expansionist policies.
“If Russia continues to make soundings, testing the crowd, and if they do not see any kind of response from the West, they will continue to advance,” he said. “I have been talking about this from the very first day of my presidency.”
Zelenskyy reiterated that he had been pleading with other world leaders in the run-up to the current invasion.
“I told them that we are running out of time,” he said. “You have to admit Ukraine into NATO right now. We did not have much time. You have to accept Ukraine as a member of the EU. We deserve these alliances.”
But, he noted: “Everyone in the West told me that we do not have any chance of NATO or EU membership. I asked them not to drive the Ukrainian people into a corner because our people are brave.”
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and who lost members of his family in the Holocaust during World War II, said he found it absurd that Putin, conjuring up the image of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, has said Ukraine is dominated by neo-Nazis.
“This is a laughable statement for me,” he said, but added that it was very worrisome nonetheless. “The fact is that if he is serious about this statement, he might be capable of very horrendous steps because that would mean that this is not a game for him.”
Throughout the interview, Zelenskyy spoke of the pride and resilience of Ukraine’s people.
“Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us, and we have demonstrated the dignity of our people and our army,” he said.
Zakaria asked Zelenskyy how he, his wife and two children were faring under the stress of the current war.
“I’m holding up quite well,” Zelenskyy said. “As of now, my weakest point is losing people, losing children in these numbers and this huge amount of casualties. I go to sleep with this information about children who were killed and we are continuing to pray in order to prevent new losses of people, but so far we haven’t attained these results.”
He added: “My children know for sure what is happening, and I don’t know whether it’s good or bad.”