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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a meeting in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets the leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia in Kyiv on March 16, 2022. (Photo: Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'All Wars End in Agreements': Zelenskyy Voices Hope for Peace Deal as Talks Continue

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also signaled there is "some hope of reaching a compromise."

Jake Johnson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that "difficult" diplomatic talks with Moscow appear to be moving in a positive direction even as Russian forces ramp up their bombing campaigns in Kyiv and other major cities, worsening an already massive humanitarian crisis.

"There are fundamental contradictions. But there is certainly room for compromise."

In a video address, Zelenskyy said that "the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic" but did not offer details on what a potential agreement with Russia would entail. Ukraine's president has called for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of all Russian troops, while Moscow is pursuing a number of demands including a commitment that Ukraine will "reject any aims to enter any bloc" such as NATO.

"All wars end in agreements," said Zelenskyy, expressing hope that the two sides can ultimately reach a deal to end Russia's deadly assault. "However, time is still needed for the decisions to be in Ukraine's interests. Our heroes, our defenders give us this time defending Ukraine everywhere."

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Zelenskyy adviser, wrote on Twitter that talks with Russia's delegation will continue on Wednesday.

"A very difficult and viscous negotiation process," Podolyak added. "There are fundamental contradictions. But there is certainly room for compromise."

Russian diplomats have also sounded optimistic notes in recent days about the state of negotiations with their Ukrainian counterparts, but President Vladimir Putin suggested in a phone conversation with the head of the European Council on Tuesday that a breakthrough is not imminent.

"Kyiv is not showing a serious commitment to finding mutually acceptable solutions," Putin said during the call, according to a readout published by the Kremlin.

However, hours later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that "absolutely specific wordings" on key issues such as Ukraine's neutrality in relation to NATO were "close to being agreed" upon. Lavrov, Russia's top diplomat, echoed Podolyak's assessment that there is "some hope of reaching a compromise."

The Financial Times characterized Lavrov's comments Wednesday as "the most upbeat yet delivered by a senior Russian figure."

Updates on the peace talks came as Russian forces continued attacking the Ukrainian capital with missiles and artillery fire. According to the Associated Press, "Shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv on Wednesday, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire that sent plumes of smoke over the area, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency."

"The neighboring building was also damaged," AP reported. "The agency reported two victims, without saying if they were injured or killed."

The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, and many civilians are still attempting to escape violence in Mariupol and other besieged cities. A senior Ukrainian official said that roughly 29,000 people were able to evacuate through humanitarian corridors on Tuesday as tenuous cease-fires held long enough for them to travel.

The U.N. Development Programme has warned that 90% of Ukraine's population could face poverty if Russia's assault continues for another year.

On Wednesday, Zelenskyy is set to deliver an address to the U.S. Congress via video link. Citing unnamed European diplomats, the New York Times reported that "Ukrainian officials plan to present the United States with a list of military equipment they need, including armed drones and mobile air-defense systems, as Mr. Zelensky addresses Congress."

Zelenskyy is also expected to repeat his call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a demand that the Biden administration and NATO leaders have thus far rejected, fearing it would result in a broader war with Russia.

Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, argued in a column Tuesday that Zelenskyy's push for a no-fly zone "must be resisted."

"It would mean U.S. planes going into action against Russia—in effect, standing in as the Ukrainian air force," Lieven wrote. "They would be shot down by Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries stationed on Russian soil, which have the range to cover much of Ukraine."

"Furthermore," he added, "if the U.S. responded by attacking those batteries, Russia would most probably fire missiles at American air bases in Poland and other NATO members. Do we really want the two largest nuclear powers, with the ability to wipe out humanity, to start firing missiles at each other?"

Following Zelenskyy's speech to Congress on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to approve another $800 million in "security aid" for Ukraine.

The Washington Post reported that while "the contents of the latest package have not yet been disclosed," the U.S. "has already supplied Kyiv with more than 600 Stinger antiaircraft systems, 2,600 Javelin antiarmor missiles, radar systems, and millions of ammunition and artillery rounds... The United States has also dispatched helicopters, patrol boats, other vehicles, and medical supplies."

Asked what the administration is doing to help advance diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia amid fears that Western arms shipments could prolong the war, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that U.S. officials continue to "engage and talk to the Ukrainians on a daily basis, and the president and his national security team has rallied the world in being unified in their opposition to the actions of President Putin."

"We also engage, often times before and after any conversations that any of these global leaders are having with both Russians and Ukrainians, and encourage them to make sure they're engaging with Ukrainians directly," Psaki added.

This story has been updated to include new comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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