Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has branded Russia’s Vladimir Putin a “nobody” and says he is not interested in talking to him.
The comments, in an exclusive interview with Sky News’s Kay Burley, reinforce his government’s position on the subject of peace talks – they cannot happen while Mr Putin remains president.
It is a strongly-held sentiment fuelled by outrage and disgust at the horror, pain and death that Russian forces have inflicted on Ukraine over the past 11 months of all-out war at the behest of their commander in chief.
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However, some Western diplomats privately wonder whether continuing to maintain such a red line is sensible if pressure mounts for dialogue to end the war and Mr Putin, 70, stays in power.
They say it might instead be helpful if the Ukrainians were to lift this condition to make dialogue more likely at a point when Kyiv is in a relative position of strength, having launched successful counter-offensives to recapture territory in the northeast and south of the country, and with Western allies still strongly backing the war with heavy weapons, including tanks.
The worry among these diplomats is that the longer the war drags on, the greater the risk that the balance of power might shift more towards the Russian side, potentially weakening Ukraine‘s hand further.
But Mr Zelenskyy, 45, made clear that he was not in the mood to compromise.
Asked whether he would consider peace talks with Russia, the president said: “So far there are no peace talks with Russia because… we don’t know who we should negotiate with, and about what.
“What kind of peace talks? At present, these are just criminals who came here and were killing and raping. That’s what they have been doing.”
Zelenskyy ‘not interested’ in meeting ‘nobody’ Putin for peace talks
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He said any conversation could only happen under new leadership and once Russian forces have withdrawn from all Ukrainian territory.
“We hope that once Russia pulls its troops back to their territory, they will admit their big mistakes, and there will be a new government in the Russian Federation,” the president said.
“We are neighbours. It will be only then that we will be resolving this situation. Then, probably, talks will be possible.”
But what if he were in a room alone with Mr Putin? What would Mr Zelenskyy say?
His answer, given in English, was unwavering: “It is not interesting for me. Not interesting to meet, not interesting to speak… Who is he now? After full-scale invasion, for me he is nobody, nobody. No decisions with him, not interesting.”
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The words appeared to have touched a nerve in the Kremlin.
Responding to a question about Mr Zelenskyy’s comments, Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s spokesman, resorted to insults.
Ukraine’s president “has long ceased to be a possible opponent for Putin”, he said.
With the prospect of any kind of negotiated settlement to the fighting seemingly as far away as ever, it means the war in Ukraine will rage on and likely become more bloody as both sides seek to launch new offensives to break what has become a grinding winter deadlock.