(breitbart) – President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the embattled region of Kherson, southern Ukraine, on Monday, declaring that the expulsion of Russian troops there was “the beginning of the end of the war” between the two countries.
Russian officials confirmed that Moscow’s troops had moved out of Kherson late last week, claiming the move necessary to reinforce defensive positions and ensure the safety of the troops in that region. The Ukrainian government has embraced the recovery of Kherson as a turning point in the war due to its strategic position near occupied Crimea and the fact that it was one of the four regions Russian leader Vladimir Putin “annexed” in late September.
Putin announced at the time that Kherson would formally become part of the Russian Federation alongside Zaporizhzhia and the two regions of the Donbas, Donetsk and Luhansk, in a rambling speech condemning the West as “Satanic” and stating that invading Ukraine was necessary to protect children from transgender propaganda.
The English-language coverage of Zelensky’s visit to Kherson on Monday in the state outlet Ukrinform and at the site of the office of the president appeared to omit his proclamation that the war was nearing its end. The Associated Press nonetheless quoted Zelensky as making the prediction.
“This is the beginning of the end of the war,” Zelensky reportedly said, according to the AP. “We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories.”
The president’s office, publishing a readout of Zelensky’s visit, noted he described the expulsion of Russian troops from Kherson as a step towards complete “peace.”
“We are moving on. We are ready for peace, but peace for our entire country. This is the territory of our entire state. We respect international law and the sovereignty of every state, and now we are talking about the sovereignty of our state,” Zelensky said. “That is why we are fighting against Russian aggression.”
Zelensky emphasized that Ukrainian troops would continue “the de-occupation” of Ukrainian territories until the Russian government had no presence there, presumably including Crimea. Crimea had been part of Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union but succumbed to a Russian invasion in March 2014, when Putin “annexed” it with little response from the international community. Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia aided an ongoing proxy war in the Donbas between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatist groups who ultimately approved of the “annexation” in September, despite claiming they sought independence.
The escalation of the war in February of this year followed Putin announcing that he had recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as sovereign states.
“We are not interested in the territory of other countries. We are only interested in the de-occupation of our country and our territories,” Zelensky emphasized on Monday.
The Ukrainian president used his visit to meet with troops and thank them for their efforts, partaking in a ceremony raising Ukraine’s flag over Kherson once again.
Zelensky has over the past week increasingly used the rhetoric of peace, negotiation, and an end to war regarding the ongoing war, a dramatic change since early October when he issued a presidential decree calling talks with Putin “impossible.”
“He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialog with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelensky emphasized at the time.
“All of us already feel the approach of our victory. Because we preserve our unity and know that we are rightfully on our land,” Zelensky said during a broadcast to the nation on Sunday night, stating that the return of Kherson meant that Ukraine now had control over territory housing an extra 100,000 people.
“We are restoring communication, Internet, television. We are doing everything to restore normal technical capabilities for electricity and water supply as soon as possible,” Zelensky promised. “We will bring back transport and postal services. We will bring back ambulances and normal medicine.”
Zelensky also promised that Ukraine would participate in this week’s G20 summit and offer “answers to many questions that are being asked now,” without elaborating. Host country Indonesia invited Ukraine to participate despite not being a G20 country in an attempt to bring Ukraine and Russia together for talks. Zelensky said he would participate only if Russia, a G20 nation, did not. The Kremlin confirmed last week that Putin would not attend.
Zelensky’s tone change began last week in reference to an address to COP27, the United Nations climate change alarmism conference, in which he urged participants to pressure Russia into “genuine peace negotiations” to help save the environment. Zelensky discussed what he told COP27 attendees in a national speech to his people.
“Anyone who is serious about the climate agenda should also be serious about the need to immediately stop Russian aggression, restore our territorial integrity, and force Russia into genuine peace negotiations,” Zelensky said he told the conference. “Into such negotiations, which we have repeatedly proposed and to which we always received insane Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail.”
The Russian government appeared to reject any calls for talks with Ukraine on Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko called the Ukrainian government’s conditions for talks “certainly unacceptable,” taking particular objection to the demand that Russia end its military presence on Ukrainian soil.
“No, such conditions are certainly unacceptable. Our president has repeatedly said that we are ready for negotiations. But these negotiations must, of course, take into account the situation on the ground,” the Russian news agency Tass quoted Grushko as saying. Tass reported that Grushko was responding to “Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto’s statement that any peace talks on Ukraine could take place only if Russia withdrew its troops,” not necessarily the Zelensky administration’s repeated demands that the president of Russia not be involved in any peace negotiations.