Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is ready for negotiations with the West — provided the West recognizes Russia’s “new territories” taken from Ukraine.
The statement from the Kremlin came after what appeared to be a cautious diplomatic overture from the White House.
At a news conference Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Joe Biden said, "I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he's looking for a way to end the war. He hasn't done that yet."
The Kremlin shot back that Putin is “open to negotiations,” but the West must accept his proclamation that the southern region of Kherson and three other partly occupied regions of Ukraine now belong to Russia. Russia’s invasion has been condemned as illegal by most countries.
In his daily address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recalled a referendum held 31 years ago on December 1 “that united the entire territory of our state. ... Everyone expressed their support.”
“People confirmed the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine — freely and legally. It was a real referendum ... an honest referendum, and that is why it was recognized by the world. ... Ukrainian rules will prevail,” the president said.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests."
The comments came as Putin spoke on the phone with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday morning. Scholz is quoted as telling Putin “There must be a diplomatic solution as quickly as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops."
For his part, Putin accused “Western states, including Germany,” of making it possible for Kyiv to refuse to negotiate with Russia.
"Attention was drawn to the destructive line of Western states, including Germany, which are pumping the Kyiv regime with weapons and training the Ukrainian military," the Kremlin said.
In a written statement, Scholz’s spokesperson said, "the chancellor condemned in particular the Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany's determination to support Ukraine ensuring its defense capability against Russian aggression."
Speculation about negotiations to end the war has increased as Moscow's military advances in Ukraine have stalled and in some cases been turned back. Russia’s missile strikes against Ukraine’s power infrastructure have left millions of Ukrainians without power, heat and water as winter sets in.
Biden, who has spoken frequently with Ukraine President Zelenskyy, has said whether or not to negotiate with Russia is a decision for Ukraine to make.
U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby underscored the point in a statement Friday, saying only Zelenskyy can determine if and when there can be a negotiated settlement.
President Biden has not spoken with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine. Last March, Biden called Putin “a war criminal.”
On Thursday, France announced its support for creating a special tribunal to try those accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Russia's foreign ministry said Friday it was "outraged" by France’s position.
"We demand that French diplomats, who are so attentive to human rights issues, not divide people into 'right' and 'wrong', 'ours' and 'not ours'," the foreign ministry said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that the EU would try to set up a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes committed by Russia during its invasion.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and other war crimes.
U.N.-appointed investigators are examining whether Russia's attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, leaving millions without heating as temperatures plummet, amount to war crimes, a member of the inspection team said Friday.
Fierce fighting continued Friday in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Ukraine’s military said it fought off wave after wave of Russian attacks.
Kyiv said Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions in 14 settlements, while carrying out 30 airstrikes and 35 multiple-rocket attacks on civilian areas.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
The British Defense Ministry’s intelligence update Friday on Ukraine said, “Russia's withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River last month has provided the Ukrainian Armed Forces with opportunities to strike additional Russian logistics nodes and lines of communication.”
“This threat has highly likely prompted Russian logisticians to relocate supply nodes, including rail transfer points, further south and east,” according to the report posted on Twitter. “Russian logistics units will need to conduct extra labor-intensive loading and unloading from rail to road transport. Road moves will subsequently still be vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery as they move on to supply Russian forward defensive positions.”
The ministry said, “Russia's shortage of munitions [exacerbated bv these logistics challenges] is likely one of the main factors currently limiting Russia's potential to restart effective, large scale offensive ground operations.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine, told the Kanel 24 television channel Thursday that between 10,000 to 13,000 soldiers have been killed in the conflict.
Reuters is reporting that three people were killed and seven were wounded overnight in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson region.