Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday said his country should accept that it would not become a member of NATO’s military alliance, a concern cited by Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“We have heard for years that the doors were open, but we also heard that we could not join. It’s a truth and it must be recognized,” he told a video conference with military officials.
Zelensky’s comments came as Russia stepped up its bombardment of Kyiv on Tuesday, smashing apartments and a subway station, despite a fresh round of talks aimed at halting the war.
Outwardly, at least, the two sides are still far apart in negotiations, with Moscow demanding Ukraine turn away from the West and recognize Moscow-backed breakaway regions. A senior Ukraine official said late Tuesday that there remain “fundamental contradictions” between the sides.
Ukraine is pushing for a ceasefire and Russian troop withdrawal. On Tuesday, Zelensky sounded a note of cautious optimism about ongoing peace talks and claimed Russia was realizing victory would not come on the battlefield.
“They have already begun to understand that they will not achieve anything by war,” Zelensky said.
He added Monday’s talks were “pretty good… but let’s see.”
A senior aide to Zelensky said Tuesday that Russia has softened its stance in the talks over a possible settlement.
Ihor Zhovkva, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, said the talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives have become “more constructive” and Russia has changed tone and stopped airing demands for Ukraine to surrender — something Russia had insisted upon during earlier stages of talks.
But a member of the delegation said later Tuesday that the talks face “fundamental contradictions,” while compromise is still possible.
“We’ll continue tomorrow. A very difficult and viscous negotiation process. There are fundamental contradictions. But there is certainly room for compromise,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation and presidential aide, tweeted after talks resumed earlier in the day, with both sides having signaled progress.
Three rounds of talks in Belarus earlier this month have been followed by video calls between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, including the one on Tuesday.
Zhovkva said that Ukrainian representatives feel “moderately optimistic” after the talks, adding that it would be necessary for Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet to make major progress.
Also Tuesday, a senior Israeli source told Channel 12 that, amid Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s mediation efforts, “there’s a certain narrowing of positions” between Russia and Ukraine.
“The Russians initially demanded the ouster of Zelensky and disarmament [of Ukraine]. That’s no longer their position. And the Ukrainians have also come down from some of their previous [positions],” the unnamed source said.
“Israel did not start meditating in order to convene a summit for the cameras in Jerusalem. That’s not the goal,” the source added.
The source seemed to imply that Israel should not join Western sanctions against Russia, despite what is said to be growing pressure to do so, because staying neutral will allow Israel to mediate between the sides.
“If there’s a way to put an end to the bloodshed, that’s of the highest value,” the source said.
Bennett has been in repeated contact with Zelensky and Putin in recent days, including a lengthy call with the Russian president and a follow-up call with the Ukrainian president on Monday.
According to US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, Israel has been in complete coordination with the Biden administration during Bennett’s mediation efforts.
“All of the communications have been clear. The prime minister has not made a move without talking to the White House, so we have no complaints with the Israelis,” Nides said Tuesday during an event hosted by Americans for Peace Now.
The remark was consistent with ones made previously by US and Israeli officials on the matter. Asked whether he supported Israel’s efforts to mediate between the parties, Nides toed the administration’s line.
“The position of the United States has been, ‘God bless.’ If you can gather information, if you can have conversations [that is great, but]… It’s not risk-free. As the prime minister knows, this never was free to get yourself in the middle of these discussions because you’re dealing with a very precarious situation, but we are very happy with the positions of the countries who are engaged in this, including Israel.”
Meanwhile, Turkey said Tuesday that its foreign minister would visit both Ukraine and Russia this week as Ankara facilitates ceasefire talks.
NATO member Turkey, which has strong ties with Russia and Ukraine, is seeking to shore up its credentials as a regional power player by mediating in the conflict.
Last week, the Turkish resort city of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said he would meet Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday.