It’s obvious at this point that Ukraine’s military is seeking to expand strikes inside Russian-controlled Crimea, which this month has become an unprecedented first following a brutal, grinding more than half-year of war. Zelensky has called for its “liberation” – but if this weren’t enough to ensure that the conflict will continue to burn for at least the near to medium-term future (the war is possibly set to endure for years, according to the predictions of some US defense officials), Zelensky’s latest remarks on Monday suggest that any potential ceasefire negotiations aren’t even so much as anywhere on the horizon.
Zelensky called the idea of negotiations with Moscow “impossible” if Russia moves forward with plans for a mass trial of captured Mariupol defenders. “If this despicable show trial takes place, if our people are brought into this scenery in violation of all agreements, all international rules, if there is abuse … this will be the line beyond which any negotiations are impossible,” Zelensky said Monday.
“Russia will cut itself off from the negotiations,” he stressed. “There will be no more conversations. Our state has said everything.” Russia too has of late been expressing a similar position of being closed to talks, blaming Kiev and its Western backers, and President Putin is expected to dig in his heals further especially after the recent Crimea attacks as well as the car-bombing of Alexander Dugin’s daughter Darya on Saturday night.
In the comments he confirmed he is in ongoing conversation with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over what Ukraine is dismissing as a show trial, saying that he expects the UN to issue clear condemnation.
“Everyone understands everything,” Zelensky said. “They understand what the occupiers are doing and what it threatens,” he added of international powers. “And they understand that Ukraine will not tolerate this. It will not tolerate tormenting of people about whom only one thing can be said: they are heroes of their homeland, they defended the freedom of their people from invaders on their land.”
Russian foreign ministry officials have meanwhile complained separately that it’s the UN itself largely to blame for lack of any diplomatic process towards a negotiated settlement to the war:
Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, told the Financial Times that the UN should be playing a bigger role in attempts to end the conflict and accused the US and other Nato countries of pressing Ukraine to walk away from negotiations.
There would be no direct talks between Putin and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he said. “Now, I do not see any possibility for diplomatic contacts,” Gatilov said. “And the more the conflict goes on, the more difficult it will be to have a diplomatic solution.”
As for the hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who spent literally months holed up in the cavernous Azovstal steal plant while under siege by numerically superior Russian forces, Kremlin authorities have said they mostly make up the neo-Nazi Azov battalion. Earlier Russian media reports additionally alleged that some foreign fighters may have been in their midst as well.
Ukraine officials and pundits are livid over the planned optics of the trial…
Already, some foreign fighters, including UK nationals, were in months past sentenced to death by a local pro-Russian Donetsk court. It’s entirely possible and even likely that the captured Azov members will be issued the same sentence. Without doubt, Moscow will seek to “send a message” with this trial. Russian forces have accused Azov battalion of being genocidal and of committing ‘terrorism’ against civilians.
The trial is also sure to capture global headlines and likely elicit UN condemnation, also given that – as The Hill reports – “Ukraine’s military intelligence arm warned on Friday in a Telegram post that Russia has been remodeling the Mariupol Chamber Philharmonic and installing iron cages in the building for a trial on Wednesday, which marks Ukraine’s independence day and six months since the war began.”