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Zelenskyy ready to discuss Ukraine neutrality with Russia

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during an interview with independent Russian news media from Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 27, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

LVIV, Ukraine (Kyodo) -- Ukraine is prepared to discuss adopting a policy of "neutrality" in cease-fire talks with Russia, its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview on Sunday with Russian journalists.

    Ukraine is willing to give up on its effort to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as Russia has demanded, if neighboring countries guarantee its security, he said in the online interview. The talks are expected to take place early this week in Istanbul, Turkey.

    Ukraine could sign such a pact with its neighbors, including Russia, in exchange for it abandoning its possible bid for membership of NATO, but such a plan needs to be put to a national referendum, according to Zelenskyy.

    Zelenskyy's message comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its second month, displacing millions of people and causing more than 1,119 civilian deaths, according to a United Nations tally released Sunday.

    Russian forces have also suffered a large number of casualties and the nation's advance on Ukraine's capital Kyiv has stalled in the face of fierce resistance.

    Russian authorities banned local media from reporting on the interview, which was conducted in Russian.

    Zelenskyy said Russian forces need to pull out of Ukraine first, saying "a national referendum cannot take place in the presence of foreign military forces."

    Ukraine will not seek to reclaim by force areas in the Donbas region controlled by pro-Russian separatists nor would it attempt to reclaim by force Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, he said.

    The president suggested the possibility of putting that into writing, as well as readiness to renounce the development of nuclear weapons.

    Zelenskyy said Ukraine is not discussing the possibility of demilitarization, another of Russia's demands.

    Turkey said Sunday that the cease-fire talks will take place in Istanbul following a phone conversation between its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian government said the talks will be held in person.

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