Zelenskiy signals readiness for new talks if Mariupol troops are not harmed

Ukrainian leader tells TV station ‘there are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table’

Ukraine has suggested that it is willing to resume talks with Russia as Moscow claimed to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol – its biggest prize since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Speaking to a television channel on Saturday, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that “discussions between Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly take place”.

“Under what format I don’t know – with intermediaries, without them, in a broader group, at the presidential level,” he added. “But the war will be bloody, there will be fighting and [it] will only definitively end through diplomacy.

“There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table. We want everything to return [to as it was before] but Russia does not want that.”

The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, responded by blaming Ukraine for stopping the talks. The last discussions between the two sides took place on 22 April, according to Russian news agencies.

During the interview, held with a Ukrainian broadcaster, Zelenskiy spoke of creating a document enshrining security guarantees for his country. Although bilateral discussions would be held with Russia, the document would be signed by “friends and partners of Ukraine, without Moscow”, he added.

However, he warned that the precondition for resuming negotiations was that Moscow did not kill Ukrainian troops who had been defending the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. “The most important thing for me is to save the maximum number of people and soldiers,” he said.

A soldier stands in the shattered ruin of a room, full of debris, and with light coming in from the destroyed walls and ceilings and other shell holes
A Ukrainian soldier inside the ruins of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, in a photograph provided by the Azov Regiment. Photograph: Dmytro Kozatsky/AP

Last week, Russia announced it had taken full control of Mariupol, the first major city to fall. The last group of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks surrendered on Friday, bringing to an end a months-long siege of the defenders’ last stronghold.

“Underground structures of Azovstal where militants were hiding are now under full control of Russian armed forces,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement, adding that 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered.

Hours before the Russian announcement, Zelenskiy said the defenders had been told by commanders that they should leave. In a live video posted on the messaging service Telegram, Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, which has led the defence of the factory, said only the dead remained.

“The higher military command has given the order to save the lives of the soldiers of our garrison and to stop defending the city,” he said. “I now hope that soon the families and all of Ukraine will be able to bury their fighters with honours.”

Ukraine hopes to exchange the surrendering Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities are threatening to put some of them on trial.

The fall of Mariupol – the largest trading port on the Sea of Azov, from which Ukraine exports grain, iron, steel and heavy machinery – is a breakthrough for Russia. Taking control of the city means gaining a land corridor from the Donbas to Crimea.

Fierce fighting continued in the eastern Donbas, where Zelenskiy said Russian troops had “completely ruined” the cities of Rubizhne and Volnovakha, “just as they did Mariupol”, adding that the Russians were “trying to do the same with Severodonetsk and many other cities”.

Meanwhile, on Saturday the Russian energy company Gazprom halted gas exports to neighbouring Finland, the Finnish gas system operator said, after Helsinki angered Moscow by applying for Nato membership last week.

Moscow had warned Finland that any such application would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences”.

The majority of gas used in Finland comes from Russia, but the fuel only accounts for about 5% of the country’s annual energy consumption.

The Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, said he and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had had “open and direct” talks to discuss the bid for Nato membership, after Erdoğan openly questioned whether Finland and Sweden, which has also applied, should be permitted to join.

Contributor

Lorenzo Tondo in Kyiv

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands defiant in face of Russian attack
Analysis: Ukraine’s president has won over critics with his courage and resilience as his country fights for survival

Luke Harding in Lviv

26, Feb, 2022 @1:52 PM

Article image
Moscow set to call referendum on Mariupol joining Russia, says Ukraine
Kremlin poised to hold referendum in ruined city in bid to secure grip on the region

Daniel Boffey in Kyiv

14, May, 2022 @6:15 PM

Article image
Russia scales back its military ambitions but the war in Ukraine is far from over
Friday’s announcement that Putin’s forces were limiting operations to the Donbas and their mission was nearly complete is merely a shift in emphasis

Jack Watling

26, Mar, 2022 @2:44 PM

Article image
Putin shunned by world as his hopes of quick victory evaporate
Russian troops facing fierce resistance as Germany abandons its postwar military stance to supply arms to Ukraine

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kyiv, Peter Beaumont in Lviv, Andrew Roth in Moscow, Philip Oltermann in Berlin

26, Feb, 2022 @8:57 PM

Article image
Biden warns Putin: you’ll pay a heavy cost if you attack Ukraine
US president fears ‘great suffering’ in the event of an invasion as Russia denies there are any plans for an attack

Julian Borger in Washington, Shaun Walker in Kyiv, Michael Savage Policy Editor

12, Feb, 2022 @10:30 PM

Article image
Ukraine pleads for weapons as Russian onslaught threatens to turn the tide
As support among some European allies appears to waver, Kyiv calls for advanced rocket systems to hit Russia’s supply lines

Simon Tisdall and Mark Townsend

28, May, 2022 @5:19 PM

Article image
West plans to arm resistance if Russian forces occupy Ukraine
Invasion ‘must be seen to fail’, says Boris Johnson, as western allies hold secret talks about how to give military backing to Kyiv

Patrick Wintour in Munich, Luke Harding in Kyiv and Shaun Walker in Stanytsia Luhansk

20, Feb, 2022 @4:30 AM

Article image
Armed with hammers and pistols, Ukrainians wait at barricades for the Russians
At makeshift checkpoints, motley crews of citizens vow to do everything in their power to halt the Russian advance

Shaun Walker and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kyiv

26, Feb, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Ukraine will ask US for more heavy weapons to defeat Russia, Zelenskiy says
President tells press conference he will meet with US secretary of state and defence secretary on Sunday

Luke Harding Kyiv

23, Apr, 2022 @10:42 PM

Article image
Arms shipments are a legitimate military target, Kremlin warns west
Volodymyr Zelenskiy reveals that at least 1,300 Ukrainian troops have died as French and German talks with Vladimir Putin fail

Peter Beaumont in Lviv

12, Mar, 2022 @6:56 PM