Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday he would be open to negotiations with Russia, but only direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking by video link to the World Economic Forum, Zelenskyy said there was a potential for finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict if Putin “understands reality.”
Zelenskyy added that a first step toward talks with Russia would be for Russian forces to withdraw to the lines that were in place before Russia invaded in late February.
There has been no sign of movement toward a negotiated end to the conflict in recent weeks, with each side accusing the other of not being willing to engage in talks.
In Russia, Putin issued an order that would fast-track Russian citizenship to people living in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. There is already a program to fast-track citizenship for people living in the Donbas.
Ukrainian officials said the latest fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces had reached the edge of the industrial hub of Severodonetsk, with Moscow’s troops trying to seize control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine after failing to topple Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.
The Ukrainian governor of the eastern region of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, described the situation around Severodonetsk as “very difficult” and said there was “already fighting on the outskirts.”
“Russian troops have advanced far enough that they can already fire mortars” on the city, he said.
Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak pushed foreign governments to take action to pressure Russia to end the war.
“Today, the future of Europe is not formed in Brussels or Davos. It is formed in the trenches near Severodonetsk and Bakhmut. The duration of this war depends on the speed of imposing energy sanctions and weapons supply. Want to end the war? The key to peace is in your capitals,” Podolyak tweeted.
That followed a Zelenskyy message late Tuesday in which he said sending Ukraine rocket-propelled grenades, tanks, anti-ship missiles and other weapons was “the best investment” to prevent future Russian aggression.
Meanwhile, the European Union, Britain and the U.S. announced the creation of what they called the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to coordinate with Ukraine on investigations of possible Russian war crimes during the three months of fighting.
The United States said it will not extend a waiver, set to expire Wednesday, that allowed Russia to pay back its debts to international investors.
The Treasury Department had let Russia use U.S. banks to make the payments, saying that was a temporary measure meant to provide an “orderly transition” and allow for the investors to sell their stakes.
Closing that pathway raises the prospect that Russia may default on its debt.
Delegations from Sweden and Finland were in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Wednesday for talks with Turkish officials about the two nations’ applications to join NATO, which have been met with opposition from Turkey.
Turkey accused Sweden and Finland of harboring people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey says orchestrated a 2016 coup attempt.
NATO bids need approval from all of the alliance’s current members. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said he is confident any objections will be overcome and both Sweden and Finland will be welcomed into the alliance.