Residents question Ukraine’s absence from talks about its future

Russian and American flags are pictured before talks between deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov (not pictured) and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (not pictured) at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, 10 January 2022. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

As officials from the United States and Russia began talks on Monday (10 January) over Ukraine’s security, Kyiv resident Oleh was among those who questioned why the country at the centre of the crisis was not at the negotiating table.

“I think it should not be this way,” the 59-year-old said.

“Ukraine must be present during those meetings because it is a more interested party than other countries, more interested party than Russia and the United States. Ukraine must be sitting in the first row.”

Ahead of Biden-Putin talks, Ukraine warns against Yalta-type agreement

Ukraine rejects any efforts to get it to scrap its plans to join NATO as well as any “guarantee” sought by Russia to ease tensions on the border, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday (3 December).

Washington hopes that negotiations will avert the threat of a Russian military offensive in Ukraine, while not conceding to Moscow’s security demands that include throwing out the prospect of Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.

Ukraine has sought and received assurances from allies that there would be “no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine”, as Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba put it last week.

“Ukraine must be present at such talks because they directly concern its security, its life,” said another Kyiv resident, 57-year-old accountant Valentyna.

Despite its absence from negotiations in Geneva, Ukraine has pressed the EU and the US to prepare tough measures as part of a diplomatic push to deter Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to US President Joe Biden on 2 January while Ukrainian and NATO officials meet in Brussels on Monday.

Defiance and alarm

Ukrainians have struck a defiant tone, while sounding the alarm about a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders.

More than 150 people gathered at a protest in Kyiv on Sunday, holding up signs saying “SAY NO TO PUTIN”.

A December survey by the KIIS think-tank said 49% of Ukrainians thought the threat of invasion was real, while 59% said they would vote “yes” compared to 28% “no” in a referendum on joining NATO.

Furthermore, 33% said they were ready to put up armed resistance against Russia while a further 21% said they were ready for civil resistance actions.

Ukraine has been fighting a war against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014, a conflict which Zelenskiy said has killed as many as 15,000 people, despite a peace deal agreed in Minsk in 2015.

The bombed-out village of Katerynivka in the Luhansk region bears scars of the war: empty streets and houses abandoned and destroyed by shelling.

Local resident Serhiy and his son live just a few hundred meters from the frontline. He said he could hear gunfire almost every day.

“Everyone wants peace, everyone wants tranquility,” he said.

Talks begin on Monday in Geneva before moving to Brussels and Vienna, with relations between the United States and Russia at their most tense since the end of the Cold War.

Unlike in Kyiv, some residents in the separatist-held city of Donetsk saw no reason to include Ukraine.

“What’s the point in talking to Ukraine? It seems to me they do not take any decisions,” said 59-year-old Andrei.

“They have already forgotten about the Minsk agreements and do not fulfil them. It seems to me there is no point talking to them about anything because they are not a player in these talks anymore.”

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