March 20 (UPI) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday to negotiate a peaceful end to the invasion to avoid “a third World War.”
“I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” Zelensky told CNN. “If there’s just 1% chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that.”
Zelensky said that Russian forces had invaded Ukraine to “exterminate” the country.
“And we can demonstrate that the dignity of our people and our army that we are able to deal a powerful blow, we are able to strike back. But, unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve the lives,” Zelensky said.
“So, I think we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.”
In his nightly address, Zelensky appeared to brace Ukrainians for the possible outcomes of negotiations.”I am sure you understand that negotiations are not easy and pleasant but they are needed because it’s about life,” Zelensky told the nation.
“Ukraine has always sought a peaceful solution. The more we are interested in peace now. Because we count everyone killed. Because every ruined family, every ruined house, matters to us because we are Ukrainians.”
However, he also said that such negotiations would not include “compromises” that Ukraine cannot make including that they recognize that Crimea is part of Russia after its 2014 annexation and that two areas in the Donbas region are independent republics.
“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,” Zelensky said.
“They have greeted them with bravery, they have greeted them with weapons in their hands.”
In his comments to CNN, Zelensky added that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if it had been admitted as a full member of NATO before the invasion.
Before the invasion began, Ukraine and Russia had been engaged in ongoing disputes and conflict since the latter re-absorbed Crimea within its borders in 2014 and over the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO.
In 2008, NATO promised to give Ukraine full membership, which Putin has long seen as a threat to Russia. Ukraine joined NATO as a partner in June 2020 but does not currently benefit from collective defense agreements.
“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 told CNN.
“If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis.”
Zelensky added that NATO had placed Ukraine in a “dubious position,” which has led to confusion over its status since the 2008 promise for both Ukraine and Russia.
“I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no,” Zelensky said.
“And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open.”
In further comments on Sunday to Israeli lawmakers, Zelensky thanked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for his mediation efforts with Russia, The New York Times reported. Zelensky, who is Jewish, also appealed to Jewish sentiment after Putin branded Ukraine as being “pro-Nazi.”
“Our people are now wandering in the world, seeking security as you once did,” he said.
He also asked the lawmakers why Israel had refused to provide Ukraine with weapons like an anti-rocket defense system called Iron Dome, according to The New York Times.
Zelensky’s media blitz on Sunday come after he urged Moscow on Saturday to negotiate for peace “without delay” in another video message.
“Meaningful negotiations on peace, on security for us, for Ukraine — meaningful, fair and without delay — are the only chance for Russia to reduce the damage from its own mistakes,” Zelensky said Saturday.
“I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. It’s time to meet. Time to talk. It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine.”
In an intelligence update on Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense said that Russia has increased its “indiscriminate shelling of urban areas resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties.”
“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the Defense Ministry said.
Russian forces bombed a drama school in the besieged city of Mariupol where about 400 civilians had been sheltering from the fighting, Ukrainian officials said.
The Mariupol City Council said that the drama school had been bombed Sunday, destroying the building and burying casualties in the rubble. It was not immediately clear how many people survived the attack.