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What Russia and Ukraine want from peace talks and where red lines are

As the Russian aggressor intensifies shelling of cities and villages in Ukraine, the pressure on officials from both sides to come to at least some kind of solution that puts an end to the bloodshed grows as well.

The fifth round of negotiations is due to be held today, on March 15. CNBC briefly described what the Ukrainian and Russian sides want.

Russia’s wishlist

There are many interpretations of what Putin, the leader of the aggressor country wants, but there is no clarity on this matter. A lot of political scientists argue that Putin's main goal is to restore Russia's sphere of influence over the former Soviet space and stop their slide towards the West. Ukraine is among them.

In the near-term, Putin is seen wanting to topple Ukraine’s pro-Western government and install a pro-Russian puppet leadership there in a bid to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.

Russia has been clear in stating what it wants from talks with Ukraine:

  • legal guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to NATO, the Western military alliance, and has since said that it wants Ukraine to sign a neutrality agreement and to amend its constitution accordingly;
  • Moscow has also demanded that Ukraine recognize the independence of two separatist, pro-Russian republics in eastern Ukraine, the so-called Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk;
  • recognizing Crimea annexed in 2014 as Russian territory;
  • ceasing all military activity.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated last week that the war will stop "in a moment" if Ukraine agrees to these demands.

It should be noted that the RF has much to lose from the war with Ukraine. It has already been largely isolated on a geopolitical, financial and commercial stage. Western capital is leaving Russian jurisdiction en masse amid the war and after the imposition of large-scale and harsh measures. Sanctions systematically turn the Russian economy into ruins.

What Ukraine wants

President Zelenskyy summed up Ukraine’s aim when he stated on Monday, March 14, that his country wants a "fair peace" with Russia. He has insisted the country is not willing to surrender, or accept ultimatums from Russia.

Ukraine has demanded a ceasefire with Russia, the withdrawal of Russian troops and has said it will not cede any of its territory to Russia. However, it’s unclear whether this means it will refuse to recognize the breakaway pro-Russian republics in the Donbas or Crimea as Russian territory.

At the same time, Ukraine has also signaled that it may compromise on future NATO membership. The Ukrainian side stated it would be willing to forego membership. But in return it wants to receive clear "security guarantees" from the U.S. and NATO in order to secure itself in the future. These guarantees should be enshrined in a future agreement with Russia.

An immediate priority for Ukraine has been the creation of humanitarian corridors to allow the safe evacuation of civilians. Most of the inhabitants of the occupied and besieged territories are trying to survive under shelling while having no water, electricity, medicines, and food.

Progress in establishing humanitarian corridors in Ukraine has been mixed. Some of them sent Ukrainians to Russia or its ally Belarus. Others have been scrapped amid reports of civilians coming under fire as they try to flee.

Mariupol siege is military campaign key element

A key concern for Ukraine in recent weeks has been the Azov port city of Mariupol. It is surrounded by Russian forces and has been facing near constant shelling. The resources for living in this city run out, and previous attempts at a ceasefire failed.

It is hoped that it will be possible to evacuate more civilians from Mariupol on 15 March. The first opportunity for evacuation appeared on 14 March. Prior to this, the city with a population of more than 400,000 people was under siege, and there was no way to leave it.

Ukraine has said it plans to send a convoy with humanitarian supplies to the port city on Tuesday and hopes to take women and children out of the city on its way back.

More than 2,500 residents have been killed in Mariupol since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, although the figures are hard to verify. Russia has said that it does not target civilians despite evidence to the contrary with the targeting of hospitals and other public infrastructure.

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