Zelensky briefs Trudeau as ceasefire talks resume

OTTAWA — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an update Monday on new ceasefire talks with Russia that are being held amid Ukrainian claims of military gains against Russian forces.

Zelensky told Russian media before the scheduled negotiations in Turkey that Ukraine is prepared to declare neutrality, which would be a concession to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that the Kyiv government abandon its ambition to join the NATO military alliance.

But Zelensky has made clear that Ukraine would need guarantees from Russia, which invaded the country on Feb. 24, displacing millions in the worst carnage on European soil since the Second World War. On Twitter, Zelensky said he discussed co-operation with Trudeau on “defence and sanctions pressure.”

“Informed about the crimes of Russia and the course of the negotiation process,” the Ukrainian leader added. “I’m grateful for the willingness to consider additional macro-financial assistance for Ukraine.”

Prior to the talks with Russia, Zelensky also said he was open to compromise on the future of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which the Kremlin has claimed as its territory and where eight years of fighting prior to the recent Russian invasion left 14,000 dead.

The Russian advance on Kyiv appeared stalled as the mayor of Irpin, a northeastern suburb of the Ukrainian capital, said his town had been liberated from Russian forces. Earlier this month, images of dead Ukrainian civilians, including a mother and two children, emerged from Irpin.

“The prime minister and president discussed the continuing Russian military aggression and the devastating impacts to Ukraine’s people, infrastructure, and economy,” Trudeau’s office said in a summary of the call with Zelensky.

The two leaders talked about next steps, including more humanitarian, financial and military support, as well as further sanctions against Russia, it said. But the readout from Trudeau’s office did not mention Zelensky’s latest bargaining positions with Moscow.

“Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s steadfast support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine,” it said.

Earlier Monday, Trudeau said that while the Russian invasion may be driving up energy prices, it is still providing the impetus to move the world towards developing greener energy sources.

“The resolve of the world to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas is morphing into a heightened urgency for the transformation of our energy mix towards lower carbon emissions in our energies in the coming years,” Trudeau said during an event in southern Ontario.

Trudeau’s comments came as the G7 pushed back on Russian demands on oil and gas access to an energy-dependent Europe.

Germany’s energy minister says the G7 has no intention of giving into Russia’s demand that countries pay for natural gas exports in rubles.

“All G7 ministers completely agreed that this (would be) a one-sided and clear breach of existing contracts,” Robert Habeck, the German minister, told reporters Monday in Berlin.

The decision was made after a Friday meeting between officials from Canada and its G7 allies.

Last week, Putin said he would require “unfriendly” countries to pay for Russia’s natural gas in rubles and would set up a system where they could buy the Russian currency. The move was widely seen as an attempt by Putin to prop up the battered ruble, which has been plummeting in value under the weight of western sanctions.

“There is a real opportunity to understand that Vladimir Putin’s terrible mistaken decision to invade a peaceful, neighboring country is providing the world, yes, with hardship right now around energy prices, around food insecurity, but also all the more motivation to support each other , to support families as we reduce our dependency on oil and gas altogether,” Trudeau said Monday.

Trudeau says he has discussed helping Europe cope with its dependency on Russian energy supplies, including during his visit to Germany earlier this month where he and Chancellor Olaf Scholz talked about greater co-operation on developing hydrogen as a clean energy source.

While Canada and its western allies have been tightening an economic noose around the Russian economy with sanctions and other trade measures since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, banning Russian energy in Europe has been problematic.

That’s because Europe receives 40 per cent of its gas and 25 per cent of its oil from Russia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2022.

With files from The Associated Press

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