Russia ‘open’ to talks on Ukraine but presses demands after Biden comment

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is “open to negotiations” on Ukraine but the West must accept Moscow’s demands, the Kremlin said on Friday, a day after US President Joe Biden said he was willing to talk if Putin were looking for a way to end the war.

Speaking after talks on Thursday at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden said he was ready to speak with Putin “if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war”, adding the Russian leader “hasn’t done that yet”.

Fighting is raging in eastern Ukraine, with the town of Bakhmut the main target of Moscow’s artillery attacks, while Russian forces in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions remain on the defensive, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its latest battlefield update.

In Moscow’s first public response to Biden’s overture, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests.”

However, Peskov said the US refusal to recognise annexed territory in Ukraine as Russian was hindering a search for ways to end the war. Moscow has previously sought sweeping security guarantees including a reversal of Nato’s eastern enlargement.

Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call on Friday that the Western line on Ukraine was “destructive” and urged Berlin to rethink its approach, the Kremlin said.

In Berlin’s readout on the call, Scholz’s spokesperson said the chancellor had condemned Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure and called for a diplomatic solution to the war “including a withdrawal of Russian troops”.

Separately, the German government confirmed it was preparing to deliver seven Gepard tanks to Ukraine, adding to the 30 air-defence tanks already being used to fight Russian forces.

Putin has said he has no regrets about launching what he calls a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. He casts the war as a watershed moment when Russia finally stood up to an arrogant West after decades of humiliation following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.—Agencies