russia: Russia says Ukraine ‘neutrality’ key at conflict talks

MOSCOW: Russia said Wednesday that Ukrainian neutrality was taking centre stage at ongoing talks between Moscow and Kyiv aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to nearly three weeks of fighting.
Separately, Moscow’s lead negotiator said his delegation was pushing for Ukraine to assume a status comparable Sweden or Austria, two neutral countries in western Europe.
The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations aimed at finding common ground and bringing the hostilities launched by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in late February to a halt.
The latest bout ended late Tuesday however with Kyiv pointing to “fundamental contradictions” in the positions of Russia and Ukraine.
Ukraine’s “neutral status is now being discussed seriously, of course, alongside security guarantees,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told the RBK business news outlet in an interview.
“This is what is now being discussed at the talks. There are absolutely specific wordings and in my view, the sides are close to agreeing on them,” he added.
Both sides had earlier raised hopes of a breakthrough, referring to agreements that were close to being put to paper and signed.
Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky told reporters Wednesday that talks were “slow and difficult” but said the Kremlin wants peace, “as soon as possible”.
He reiterated that the core issue at the talks is a “neutral” Ukraine, citing the status of Austria and Sweden as possible examples to follow.
Medinsky added that other issues were being discussed, including the status of the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as territories held for years by pro-Moscow separatists.

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