Ukraine, Russia agree to talks ‘without preconditions’: Zelenskyy

Ukraine announces talks ‘without preconditions’ as its foreign minister says his country will ‘not give up a single inch of territory’.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the nation in Kyiv
The meeting was announced after a phone call between Zelenskyy and the Belarusian president [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Ukraine and Russia have agreed to hold talks at a venue near the Belarusian border, as Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country will “not give up a single inch of … territory”.

The talks, the first since Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last week, would be held without preconditions and are the result of a phone call between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Belarusian counterpart, the Ukrainian leader said.

“We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” he said in a statement.

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said there was “some confusion” about where the Ukraine-Russia talks will take place.

“The Ukrainians are saying these talks will be held near the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, but according to the Russians, they believe, still, that the talks will take place in the southeastern city of Gomel in Belarus,” she said.

The Ukrainian foreign minister in a televised speech on Sunday said his country will “not give up a single inch of … territory” after agreeing to talks with Moscow.

“We go there [to the talks] to listen to what Russia wants to say, we are going without any … preliminary agreement on what the outcome of these talks can be. We are going there to listen and to say what we think of this war and Russia’s actions,” Kuleba said.

“Between now and the moment that the talks are wrapped up, [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko assured President Zelenskyy that no Belarusian military force will be used against Ukraine,” he added.

“We can only hope that Lukashenko will stick to his word. And between now and the moment when these talks are wrapped up, we will continue to fiercely defend our country, to defeat Russian forces if they try to continue their offensive operations.”

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Lviv in western Ukraine, said the reportedly agreed talks were a positive sign but far from a breakthrough.

“The Ukrainians seem to be very wary of the talks agreed on. They say they will go along to listen to Russia on what it has to offer,” he said.

He added that the Ukrainian government would not want to hear anything related to surrendering if Moscow is only prepared to make such an offer.

Zelenskyy previously rejected Belarus, an ally of Moscow which used Belarus as a staging ground for its multipronged invasion, as a location for potential talks.

Speaking in Russian in a video message on Sunday, Zelenskyy listed the cities of Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as possible alternative venues.

Fierce fighting continues

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops pushing into the city of Kharkiv on Sunday, on the fourth day of the invasion that has shaken Europe’s longstanding security architecture and pushed Germany to boost its defence spending.

The invasion of Ukraine from three sides, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the biggest assault on a European state since World War II.

The attack, which Russia calls a special operation, has so far failed to topple the government in Kyiv or take major cities, but has driven hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly women and children, into neighbouring countries.

Russian soldiers and armoured vehicles entered the northeastern city of Kharkiv and firing and explosions could be heard, witnesses said. A burning tank was visible in a video posted by the government.

Ukraine’s fighters repelled the attack, according to authorities in the city, the country’s second-largest with a population of about 1.4 million.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies