Putin Demands More Ukrainian Land to End War; Kyiv Rejects ‘Ultimatum’

Ukrainian servicemen of the 148th Separate Artillery Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces, prepare to fire a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system toward Russian troops, on a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 148th Separate Artillery Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces, prepare to fire a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system toward Russian troops, on a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 12, 2024. (Reuters)
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Putin Demands More Ukrainian Land to End War; Kyiv Rejects ‘Ultimatum’

Ukrainian servicemen of the 148th Separate Artillery Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces, prepare to fire a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system toward Russian troops, on a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 12, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukrainian servicemen of the 148th Separate Artillery Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces, prepare to fire a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system toward Russian troops, on a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine June 12, 2024. (Reuters)

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow, demands Kyiv swiftly rejected as tantamount to surrender.

On the eve of a conference in Switzerland to which Russia has not been invited, Putin set out maximalist conditions wholly at odds with the terms demanded by Ukraine, apparently reflecting Moscow's growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine's demilitarization, unchanged from the day he sent in his troops on Feb. 24, 2022, and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal.

He also repeated his call for Ukraine's "denazification", based on what Kyiv calls an unfounded slur against its leadership.

Ukraine said the conditions were "absurd".

"He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Italy's SkyTG24 news channel: "These are ultimatum messages that are no different from messages from the past."

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels: "He (Putin) is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about peace."

The timing of Putin's speech was clearly intended to preempt the Swiss summit, billed as a "peace conference" despite Russia's exclusion, where Zelenskiy seeks a show of international support for Kyiv's terms to end the war.

"The conditions are very simple," Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia claimed the four regions, which its forces control only partially, as part of its own territory in 2022, an act rejected by most countries at the United Nations as illegal.

Moscow also seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

"As soon as they declare in Kyiv that they are ready for such a decision and begin a real withdrawal of troops from these regions, and also officially announce the abandonment of their plans to join NATO - on our side, immediately, literally at the same minute, an order will follow to cease fire and begin negotiations," Putin said.

"I repeat, we will do this immediately. Naturally, we will simultaneously guarantee the unhindered and safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units and formations."

Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory in the third year of the war. Ukraine says peace can only be based on the full withdrawal of Russian forces and the restoration of its territorial integrity.

The weekend summit in Switzerland, which will be attended by representatives of more than 90 nations and organizations, is expected to shy away from territorial issues and focus instead on matters such as food security and nuclear safety in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has said the gathering will prove "futile" without Russia being represented.

EXISTENTIAL QUESTION

Putin's conditions appeared to reflect his growing confidence in Moscow's ability to impose its own terms as its forces have gradually advanced in recent months.

Putin said "the future existence of Ukraine" depended on it withdrawing its forces, on it adopting a neutral status, and on beginning talks with Russia, and said Kyiv's military situation would worsen if it rejected the offer.

"Today we are making another concrete, real peace proposal. If in Kyiv and in the Western capitals they refuse it as before, then, in the end, it is their business, their political and moral responsibility for the continuation of bloodshed," Putin said.

Ukraine and its Western allies describe the conflict as an imperial-style war of territorial conquest. Ukraine says any demand for its demilitarization or future neutrality would expose it to further Russian attacks.

Putin was speaking in the same week that the United States hit Russia with more sanctions, announced a 10-year security pact with Ukraine - seen as a potential precursor to eventual NATO membership - and reached a deal with its Group of Seven allies to use interest on Russian assets frozen in the West to back a $50 billion loan to Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the message to Putin was that the West would stay the course: "You cannot wait us out. You cannot divide us," said Biden.



Harris Condemns Flag Burning, Hamas Graffiti at Protest in Washington

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Harris Condemns Flag Burning, Hamas Graffiti at Protest in Washington

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris joined Democratic and Republican leaders in condemning protesters who burned American flags and sprayed pro-Hamas graffiti outside Washington's Union Station on Wednesday, describing the acts as unpatriotic and abhorrent.

The protests coincided with a speech to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before he spoke, protesters marched near the US Capitol building, condemning US military aid to Israel during its war with Hamas militants in Gaza.

Following Netanyahu's speech, some of the demonstrators gathered in front of Union Station. They hoisted American flags outside the iconic train station, burned American ones and spray painted the words "Hamas is coming" and "Free Gaza" on a large monument.

Harris, the Democrats' presidential candidate, said in a statement on Thursday that she condemns any individuals associating with Hamas.

"I condemn the burning of the American flag. That flag is a symbol of our highest ideals as a nation and represents the promise of America. It should never be desecrated in that way," Harris said.

Harris and Biden were due to hold separate meetings with Netanyahu later on Thursday. More protests were planned for outside the White House.

During the protest on Wednesday, before some of the protesters converged near Union Station, police used pepper spray on some of the thousands of demonstrators present and made some arrests.

The flag burning and graffiti outside Union Station drew strong criticism from Republican US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson and Hakeem Jeffries, the chamber's Democratic leader.