UK skeptical of Macron’s call for talks, says Ukraine must decide

The UK has pushed back against a French call for Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, warning that President Vladimir Putin may simply seek a pause in hostilities after suffering a series of military setbacks.

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(Bloomberg) – The UK has pushed back on a French call for Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, warning that President Vladimir Putin may simply be seeking a pause in hostilities after suffering a series of military setbacks.

« It has always been clear that Russia will only meaningfully enter into negotiations when it feels compelled to do so, » British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in an interview on Saturday. « Russia is now in retreat, but it is extremely important that we continue to support the Ukrainians as they continue to defend themselves. »

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Speaking on the sidelines of the IISS security conference in Bahrain, Cleverly said all wars ‘eventually end in negotiations’ but insisted it was up to Ukraine to decide on what terms she is willing to sit down for talks and what any settlement might look like.

« If Russia decides to enter into negotiations, » it cannot « just be used as a pause button because they are now seeing reversals on the battlefield, » he said.

Cleverly’s comments came as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv for the first time since taking office in October. There he reaffirmed the UK’s support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said a day earlier that he hoped his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, would agree to resume peace talks suspended since April.

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“The Ukrainians, it is my hope, will come back to the table with the Russians, and the international community will be around this table,” he told the Financial Times and the Nikkei in an interview.

Zelenskiy responded by saying Russia might ask for a « short truce » just to regroup – pushing back against the French suggestion.

“Someone can call this the end of the war,” he said at an international security forum in Halifax, Canada, according to a transcript released by his office on Saturday. « But such a respite will only make the situation worse. »

This month, Russia suffered the humiliation of having to withdraw from Kherson, the only provincial capital its forces had captured since the start of the nine-month invasion of the Kremlin.

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The reverse happened just weeks after Putin declared Kherson and three other partially occupied Ukrainian regions Russian « forever », such as the Crimean peninsula, which he annexed in 2014.

Embarrassment of Kherson

The recapture of Kherson was the latest in a series of Ukrainian territorial gains since beginning a counteroffensive in September with the aid of billions of dollars in weapons and training for its forces provided by the West.

Yet Russia is stepping up a relentless bombardment – in part with the use of Iranian drones – aimed at wiping out critical heating and power infrastructure as winter approaches. Ukraine said Russian missile attacks disabled nearly half of the country’s electrical system.

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The United States and its allies will step up deliveries of surface-to-surface and air-to-air rockets to shoot down Russian missiles and help them integrate the new equipment into their airspace protection capabilities, according to Cleverly.

« We recognize that they need these air defense systems now because as they head into winter Vladimir Putin’s strategy is very, very clear, » he said. « So his attempt to freeze them and starve them into submission will be unsuccessful. »

As Russia continues to reject Western demands to withdraw from occupied Ukrainian lands, Moscow and Washington have stepped up communications in recent weeks. The United States says the talks are aimed at avoiding the risk of nuclear escalation and that it is not negotiating an end to the war in Ukraine.



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