‘We had to buy time’ A Ukrainian negotiator said Moscow offered peace in exchange for Kyiv ending its NATO bid. Russia’s propagandists were thrilled.
On November 24, Ukrainian parliament member Davyd Arakhamia, who led Ukraine’s delegation in peace talks with Russia, said in an interview that the Kremlin offered in the spring of 2022 to end the war if Ukraine dropped its aspirations to join NATO. According to Arakhamia, Kyiv rejected the deal, believing it to be a ploy that would allow the Russian army to regroup before resuming its invasion. The lawmaker also said that one of the people who discouraged Ukraine’s delegation from negotiating with Russia at the time was then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who urged the country’s leaders to “just fight.” Meduza has compiled some of the most notable reactions to Arakhamia’s statements from prominent figures on both sides of the conflict.
On November 24, Ukrainian parliamentary deputy Davyd Arakhamia caused a stir when he said in a TV interview that during the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine held in Belarus and Turkey in February–March 2022, Moscow’s delegation offered to end the war in exchange for Kyiv vowing not to join NATO.
“They actually hoped until nearly the last moment that they could press us into signing this agreement, adopting neutrality. That was their biggest priority. They were willing to end the war if we took on neutrality, like Finland once did, and gave assurances that we wouldn’t join NATO. That was essentially the main point. Everything else was cosmetic and political embellishments about ‘denazification,’ the Russian-speaking population, blah blah blah,” Arakhamia said.
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When asked why Ukraine didn’t agree to Russia’s terms, Arakhamia was resolute:
He added that the U.K. and Ukraine’s other Western partners were informed about the negotiations and the proposed agreements but that they didn’t make any decisions for Kyiv, giving only advice. “They actually advised us not to enter into any ephemeral security guarantees [with Russia], which were impossible [for Russia] to give at that time,” he explained.
Arakhamia also said that today, Ukraine’s political and military leadership remains in favor of continuing to fight. “Why? Because we can’t go to the negotiating table right now. We’re in a very weak negotiating position. Why would we sit down for talks right now? What, let’s just stay where we are? Do you think Ukrainian society would accept that?” he said.
What public figures in Russia and Ukraine are saying
In the summer of 2023, Vladimir Putin said that Russia and Ukraine had come to a peace agreement at the beginning of the full-scale war. He claimed that this was the reason Russia had withdrawn its forces from central Ukraine, and that Kyiv had responded by “abandoning all previous agreements” and “throwing them all into the dustbin of history.”
At a meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg, Putin even briefly showed the document that he called an “agreement on the permanent neutrality and security guarantees of Ukraine.” According to Russian media, the agreement was dated from April 15, 2022. It consisted of 18 articles, the first of which included Ukraine’s neutrality. An attachment to the document specified the maximum size of the army and military arsenal Ukraine would be allowed to maintain.
In his November 24 interview, Davyd Arakhamia noted that Putin never published the document in full. “Why do you think that is? If he had the document, he would have released it,” he argued.
Despite this, numerous Russian commentators took Arakhamia’s interview as proof of Putin’s story about the peace agreement and of earlier claims in the pro-Kremlin media that Kyiv left the negotiating table under pressure from Boris Johnson and Ukraine’s other Western partners.
Russian propagandist, editor-in-chief of RT
Leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, member of the Russian peace talks delegation
Pro-war Telegram channel run by former Russian Defense Ministry Press Service employee Mikhail Svinchuk
Propagandist, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin outlet Regnum, member of Russian Presidential Human Rights Council
Ukrainian officials have so far not commented directly on Arakhamia’s interview. However, sources with connections to Ukraine’s delegation in the peace talks told journalists that they weren’t interested in signing an agreement with Russia in the spring of 2022.
“We had to buy time while our Western partners came to their senses and started making decisions that would ultimately allow us to keep fighting. To this end, we tried to get the Russians involved in discussions about details so that they would constantly have to be coordinating with Moscow,” an anonymous source with links to the negotiations told the Ukrainian outlet LB.ua.
Regarding the British leader’s involvement in the 2022 peace talks, Lb.ua wrote the following:
The news site Strana.ua (which is frequently criticized in Ukraine for being “pro-Russian” but is also blocked in Russia, like many Ukrainian outlets) called Arakhamia’s arguments about reasons for the 2022 negotiations’ failure “ambiguous.” The outlet’s journalists characterized the NATO aspirations laid out in Ukraine’s Constitution as a “mere technical problem if the political will is there.” And the issue of distrust, according to Strana, was primarily on Moscow’s side rather than Kyiv’s.
Former Adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine Oleksii Arestovych (who effectively served as the Ukrainian authorities’ spokesman in the spring of 2022 but has since become an outspoken critic of the Zelensky administration) said that it would be “irrational” for Ukrainians to blame “themselves” for the breakdown of the 2022 negotiations, and as a result, a “sharp rise in anti-Western sentiment is possible in the country.”
According to Arestovych, while the Ukrainian authorities are shifting the blame for the country’s military failures on one another, it’s the West who’s really responsible:
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the U.K. government have not responded to Davyd Arakhamia’s comments.