Zelensky draws line in negotiations: We're not giving land to Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that neither he nor his people can accept some of Russia's reported demands for ending its increasingly brutal invasion, which is now entering its fourth week.

Notably, Zelensky said, Ukraine would not be giving any territorial concessions to Russia.

"There are compromises for which we cannot be ready as an independent state," he told CNN host Fareed Zakaria, speaking through an interpreter. "Any compromises related to our territorial integrity and our sovereignty .... [the] Ukrainian people have spoken about it. They have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers; they have greeted them with bravery, and they have greeted them with weapons in their hands."

Zelensky added: “You cannot curry favor with the citizens of another country forcibly.”

Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a CNN interview. (Screenshot)
Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a CNN interview. (Screenshot)

According to Turkey's government, which has strong relations with both Ukraine and Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently outlined a series of terms for ending his attack. The most challenging of those terms relate to Ukrainian territory.

BBC News, which reported on Turkey’s phone call with Putin, wrote, "The assumption is that Russia will demand that the Ukrainian government should give up territory in eastern Ukraine." Russia has for years backed an armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine, and before the invasion it formally recognized two breakaway republics there along the Russian border.

In 2014, Russia also invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula, which was previously controlled by Ukraine. Much of the world — including Ukraine, the U.S. and most of Europe — refused to recognize the territory as part of Russia. The Kremlin is likely seeking this recognition as part of the peace terms as well.

On Sunday, Zelensky said as both a president and citizen of Ukraine, these types of terms are a nonstarter.

"You cannot just demand from Ukraine to recognize some territories as independent republics. These compromises are simply wrong," he said.

People working around the site of a destroyed house.
Ukrain residents attempt to clear debris at a destroyed house after a missile exploded in the village of Krasylivka, east of Kyiv. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images) (ARIS MESSINIS via Getty Images)

Russia's other demands may be easier for Ukraine to entertain, such as Kyiv vowing to never join the NATO military alliance. Both Zelensky and prior Ukrainian administrations have long requested membership in NATO, which carries with it a mutual-defense pact in case of an attack. NATO has quietly rebuffed Ukraine’s request, fearing antagonizing Russia and triggering a global war.

“If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn't have started. I'd like to receive security guarantees for my country, for my people,” Zelensky said, calling for the Western military alliance to finally give Ukraine clarity on its membership ask. “If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis.”

Zelensky also repeated his call for Putin to meet with him directly to hammer out a peace accord. The Kremlin has not appeared eager for such a meeting to take place, arguing that the terms of the ceasefire need to be ironed out in advance.

"I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war. I think that all of the people who think that this dialogue is shallow and that it is not going to resolve anything, they just don't understand that this is very valuable. If there is just a 1% chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that."