Russia may agree to end the war in Ukraine if key conditions are met, a senior Kremlin official said on Saturday.
At a press conference at the United Nations General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would recognize Ukraine’s borders before Moscow invaded if Kyiv promised not to join the military alliance.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the war on February 24, 2022, he and Kremlin officials have cited various reasons for the conflict. But one of the most commonly cited reasons is Putin’s opposition to NATO expansion on Russia’s borders, and he is said to be particularly opposed to Ukraine becoming a member of the military bloc.
Lavrov told reporters that in 1991, Moscow “recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty in accordance with the Declaration of Independence adopted when Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union.”
“One of the main points for us is that Ukraine will be a non-aligned country and will not join any military alliance,” Lavrov said. “In this case, we support the territorial integrity of this country.”
Mark N. Katz, professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University Weekly newspaper “Ukraine’s 1990 Declaration of National Sovereignty indeed declares Ukraine to be a ‘permanently neutral country that does not participate in military blocs.'”
“Lavrov’s statement does imply, then, that Moscow will recognize Ukraine’s 1990 borders if Ukraine renounces NATO membership.”
Weekly newspaper The Russian Foreign Ministry was contacted for comment via email.
Since the outbreak of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pushing for Ukraine to join NATO, and his efforts have been supported by key NATO officials. But even if Zelensky agrees to abandon NATO membership to end the war, Ukraine may still find a sticking point over Crimea.
Putin invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, and Zelensky vowed to reclaim the peninsula and make it part of the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea was declared part of Ukraine, leading some to speculate that Lavrov may have suggested that Russia might be willing to abandon the region.
Katz said that while Crimea was a province of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990, he had a feeling that “Lavrov’s statement may not be unambiguous and there may be further ‘clarifications,’ but Not so generous to Ukraine.”
“However, if Moscow just wants an end to the war, it might be able to view preventing Ukraine from joining NATO as a victory, even if it means giving up Russian claims to occupied Ukrainian territory.
“But I’m not sure Putin can do that, because it raises the question of whether the huge casualties suffered by Russian forces in this conflict are worth such a deal, assuming the Ukrainian and NATO governments agree.”
David Silbey, associate professor of history at Cornell University and dean of instruction at Cornell University in Washington Weekly newspaper He found Lavrov’s statement and his relationship to Crimea “ambiguous, which is interesting in itself.”
“It would have been easy for Lavrov to make a clear distinction, but he didn’t, and he wouldn’t have done such a thing without Putin’s permission. They both have to know that it immediately raises questions about Crimea.”
Even if Russia is unwilling to return Crimea to Ukraine, Lavrov’s comments may be interpreted as Putin may abandon his claims to Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia oblasts. A year ago, Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions to Russia, a move the international community called illegal.
“In terms of these four territories, I think, yes, it does show that Russia is willing to return them,” Silbey said.