Zelensky spoke with CNN on Sunday as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine stretches for nearly a month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that he is ready to sit down with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to try and end Moscow’s invasion — adding that a failure to negotiate peace could result in World War III.
‘I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations we cannot end this war,’ Zelensky told CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria.
Zelensky said he is prepared to meet Putin in whatever format it takes to get the autocrat face-to-face on the same day the United Nations announced more than 900 civilians have been killed since the attack began.
He also hit back at Putin’s claims that he’s seeking to ‘de-nazify’ Ukraine, warning that it could mean the autocrat is capable of ‘very frightening’ things in the name of his misguided effort.
‘If there’s just 1 percent chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that. I can tell you about the result of this negotiations — in any case, we are losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground,’ Zelensky said.
‘Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us. And we can demonstrate that the dignity of our people and our army that we are able to deal a powerful blow, we are able to strike back. But, unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve the lives,’ Zelensky said.
‘I think that we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.’
It comes as roughly 10 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine, the United Nations said on Sunday.
There are also growing calls to try Putin and his forces for war crimes. Ukrainian officials have said that more of their civilians have perished amid Russia’s invasion than members of its military.
‘What we are having now in Mariupol, they had in Leningrad. Everybody knows how many people died in the blockade of Leningrad,’ Zelensky said.
He was referring to the Germany Nazis’ brutal military blockade of the Soviet city, which ended in a bloody battle with heavy casualties on both sides.
‘These people died because they did not have enough food and water,’ Zelensky said. ‘So who is the Nazi?’
Despite dismissing Putin’s accusations, Ukraine’s president warned they could mean he is prepared to carry out ‘very horrendous steps’ to purge the sovereign country.
‘The fact is that if he is serious about this statement he might be capable of very horrendous steps because that would mean that this is not a game for him,’ Zelensky said.
‘If he’s serious about it, if he thinks that this is his mission to conquer our territory and if he sees signs of neo-Nazis in our country, then many questions emerge about what else he is capable of doing for the sake of his ambitions, for the sake of his mission.’
Zelensky said that Putin would not have begun his attack if Ukraine had been allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the West’s main defensive alliance to counter Russia’s influence in Europe.
‘If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn’t have started. I’d like to receive security guarantees for my country, for my people,’ the president said.
Putin has repeatedly made clear that Ukrainian membership in NATO would be seen as a threat to Russia’s national security. The Kremlin is seeking guarantees that such a partnership would be off the table among its many demands to withdraw its forces.
Zelensky told CNN he was grateful for the military and humanitarian aid he’s received from the U.S. and its NATO allies so far, but accused the alliance of keeping Ukraine in a dangerous ‘limbo.’
‘If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis,’ Zelensky said.
‘But if you are not ready to preserve the lives of our people, if you just want to see us straddle two worlds, if you want to see us in this dubious position where we don’t understand whether you can accept us or not.
‘You cannot place us in this situation, you cannot force us to be in this limbo.’
Zelensky claimed to have been told NATO membership is off the table — despite public suggestions to the contrary.
‘I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no. And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open,’ he said.
One of Zelensky’s main requests for NATO has been the implementation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine — something the West has definitely ruled out over concerns it could spark a direct confrontation with Russia.
The U.S. and its allies maintain they will not put boots on the ground in Ukraine, but have promised to continue supplying Kyiv with equipment and funding as well as reinforcing its Article 5 commitment to confront an adversary in the event of an attack on a NATO country.
U.S. President Joe Biden is heading to Brussels this coming week to meet with NATO allies as well as the European Council over the crisis in Ukraine.