Putin says Ukraine must withdraw troops to start peace talks

Relatives, friends and mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Ukrainian serviceman who was killed in the Kharkiv region, at Saint Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv, on June 13, 2024. [AFP]

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow would only halt its offensive on Ukraine if Kyiv effectively surrenders by pulling its troops out of the east and south and dropping its bid for NATO membership.

Ukraine, NATO and the United States immediately rejected Putin's hardline conditions to halt the full-scale military offensive that he launched in February 2022.

The two countries have been locked in bloody conflict for more than two years, and no direct peace talks have been held since the first weeks of Russia's campaign, when it was advancing on the Ukrainian capital.

Ukraine has called for Russia's full withdrawal from its internationally recognised territory, including the annexed Crimean Peninsula, as part of any peace deal.

Kyiv hopes to marshal international support at a major peace summit in Switzerland this weekend.

But with Russia advancing on the battlefield and Ukraine struggling with manpower and ammunition shortages, Putin's comments show little appetite to compromise.

"Ukrainian troops must be completely withdrawn from the Donetsk People's Republic, the Lugansk People's Republic, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions," Putin said in a televised address to Russian diplomats in Moscow.

Russia claimed to have annexed the four regions in 2022, despite not having full control over any of them.

The regional capitals of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are still in Ukrainian hands.

"As soon as Kyiv says it is ready to do this and begins really withdrawing troops and officially renounces plans to join NATO, we will immediately, literally that very minute, cease fire and begin talks," Putin said.

Russia was seeking "Ukraine's neutral, non-aligned, non-nuclear status, its demilitarisation and de-nazification," he added.


Kyiv and its Western backers immediately slammed the demands.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said they were "absurd" and that Putin wanted "the occupation of Ukraine, the destruction of the Ukrainian people."

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, called them "a complete sham" and "offensive to common sense."

At the end of a NATO meeting in Brussels, US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said: "Putin has occupied, illegally occupied, sovereign Ukrainian territory. He is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about peace."

Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance's chief, said Putin was not acting in "good faith."

"This is a proposal that actually means that Russia should achieve their war aims, by expecting that Ukrainians should give up significantly more land than Russia has been able to occupy so far," he said.

Ukraine has said it will only countenance peace if Russia fully withdraws.

It sees any halt in fighting on Moscow's terms as a chance for Russia to regroup for another attack, with the goal of capturing the entire country.

Putin on Friday said Moscow could let Ukraine keep "sovereignty" of the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, "on the condition that Russia has a strong land link with Crimea".

Military analysts have long said Russia wanted to control a "land bridge" between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, along the southern coast of Ukraine.

In public, Putin and top Russian officials have typically tried to justify their offensive by saying they were protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine from a "neo-Nazi" regime in Kyiv, rather than an attempt to conquer territory.

Ukraine and the West have always rejected those allegations as baseless and say Russia's military actions are naked imperial-style aggression.

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said later on Friday that rejecting Putin's demands was "depriving the citizens of Ukraine of a real chance of peace."


Putin's comments come a day before heads of state and senior officials from some 90 countries and organisations were set to gather in Switzerland for a major summit on peace in Ukraine.

Kyiv will use the forum to outline its own peace agenda and rally international support behind it.

Russia was not invited and Putin on Friday dismissed the initiative as a "trick" to distract attention.

Ukraine has struggled on the battlefield in 2024, facing shortages in manpower and ammunition, as well as hold-ups to Western military aid.

Soldiers near the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region told AFP of an intensification of Russian attacks over the last two weeks.

Moscow last month launched a new ground assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region, further stretching Ukrainian forces.