US President Joe Biden has indicated he would be ready to meet Vladimir Putin, but Russia says the US and European refusal to recognize territory seized from Ukraine makes peace talks more difficult.
The Kremlin said it was open to negotiations, but not to a demand to leave Ukraine.
Russia illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions in late September, even though it does not control any of them. Nine months after the invasion, it lost more than half of the lands it conquered.
Biden told reporters on Thursday night (1/12) that he is ready to meet with the Russian leader “if in fact there is an interest in him in deciding that he is looking for a way to end the war”.
Standing beside him in the White House, French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that the two leaders had agreed they would never pressure Ukrainians into a deal “that is not acceptable to them”.
The apparent flurry of diplomatic activity followed months with little sign of enthusiasm for negotiations. The Russian military has been forced back into southern Ukraine while launching widespread attacks on civilian infrastructure.
On Friday (2/12), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with President Putin for the first time since September.
During the hour-long call, the German leader urged the Russian to find a diplomatic solution involving the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine “as soon as possible”.
The Kremlin said the German side had pushed for the call, and Putin urged Scholz to “reconsider his approaches in the context of Ukrainian events”.
Putin drew attention to the “destructive line of Western states, including Germany” and completely rejected the idea of talks, the Kremlin said.
Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier that Putin remained open to negotiations aimed at “securing Russian interests”. But Moscow is certainly not willing to accept US conditions. “What did President Biden actually say? He said that negotiations are only possible after Putin leaves Ukraine,” he said.
The fact that the US does not recognize Russian “new territories” in Ukraine has complicated the search for a common basis for the talks, Peskov said.
At the end of September, Putin declared four Ukrainian regions as part of Russia. Russian forces occupy most of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, but the invasion of Donetsk has stalled and the Russians are at a disadvantage in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
Ahead of Friday’s Scholz-Putin call, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that European countries had offered nothing concrete so far in terms of mediation.
“Macron, by the way, has been regularly stating over the past two weeks that he plans to hold talks with the Russian president,” he said, adding that Russia had not received any signals through diplomatic channels.
Lavrov cited former US Secretary of State John Kerry as the type of figure who in the past has been able to solve problems and engage in real dialogue.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Friday the time had come to work for a just peace for Ukraine, but that it must come through Kyiv’s independence and not its surrender.
“The Kremlin must now give concrete signals instead of bombing the population,” Tajani told La Repubblica newspaper.
Meanwhile, on a visit to Ukraine, the Archbishop of Canterbury (religious leader of the Church of England), Justin Welby, said there can be no peace until Russia stops lying about what it is doing in Ukraine.
Speaking in Bucha, where Russian troops are accused of committing war crimes by slaughtering hundreds of civilians, he said “there can be no progress based on lies. Atrocities have been committed here.”
A senior Ukrainian official said that between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia tends to release casualty figures, and statements by presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak have not been confirmed by the Ukrainian military.
Last month, the top US general, Mark Milley, said that about 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed or wounded since the war began.
Speaking to Ukrainian TV, Podolyak said Kyiv was “talking openly about the death toll”. He added that the number of civilians killed could be “significant” and suggested that up to 100,000 Russian troops had been killed since the invasion.
In a video on Wednesday, European Union Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed. However, a spokesperson for the commission later clarified that this was an error, and the number referred to those killed and wounded. Von der Leyen also spoke of 20,000 Ukrainian civilian deaths.
Additional reporting by Elsa Maishman and Jaroslav Lukiv