Top Ukrainian politician and presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych added a seventh confirmation that a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine was agreed in principle in March 2022 that was later shot down by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The parliamentary leader of Zelenskiy's ''Servant of the People'' confirmed on November 24 in an interview that internationally mediated negotiations in Istanbul had produced an agreement to bring the fighting in Ukraine to an end.
“[The Russians] were ready to end the war if we accepted neutrality like Finland once did. And we would make a commitment that we would not join Nato. When we returned from Istanbul Boris Johnson came to Kyiv and said: “We will not sign anything with them at all and let’s just go to war,” Arestovych said.
Arestovych comments back up comments from former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was also in Istanbul, who also confirmed that a Russia-Ukraine peace deal was nearly reached in the spring of 2022, he said in an interview with Berliner Zeitung on October 21.
According to Schroeder, the deal would have included the following main points:
· Ukraine would abandon its Nato aspirations;
· The bans on the Russian language in Ukraine would be removed;
· Donbass would remain in Ukraine but as an autonomous region (Schroeder: "Like South Tyrol");
· The United Nations Security Council plus Germany should offer and supervise the security agreements; and
· The Crimea problem would be addressed.
As part of the earlier tentative peace negotiations earlier in March that had begun in the Belarusian town of Brest and were the precursor to the Istanbul meeting, Kyiv had already proposed that it would abandon its Nato ambitions and return to a stance of neutrality that was enshrined in the Constitution until it was changed by former President Petro Poroshenko to make joining Nato a national ambition.
The decision to abandon its Nato ambitions came days after Zelenskiy lambasted the alliance for failing to come to Ukraine’s aid by closing the skies to Russian aviation, something he had been calling for since the first weeks of the war.
Wearing his now trademark military t-shirt and fleece, Zelenskiy told ABC News at the time: "I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that Nato is not prepared to accept Ukraine.”
Arestovych was a member of the Ukrainian delegation in Turkey. When he returned to Kyiv from the 29-30 March peace negotiations in Istanbul Boris Johnson arrived in Ukraine a few days later and said: ''We will not sign anything at all with them, let's just fight!'' according to Arestovych.
Arestovych's account is now the seventh confirmation a deal was done – a claim that remains highly controversial.
News of the deal was originally reported by Ukrainska Pravda, which also reported that Johnson was the instrument that stopped the deal going through. Zelenskiy also confirmed a deal was in the works in an interview he gave while in Bucha following a massacre there by departing Russian troops.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed a peace deal was reached with Ukraine last April and all the points were initialled before the deal was abandoned under Western pressure in his “Empire of Lies” speech at the UN on September 23, although he didn't name Johnson, saying only "the West" had scuppered the agreement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also confirmed a deal was done in comments in July.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also confirmed that the West had blocked a potential peace deal in an interview posted to his YouTube channel in February this year. Bennett, who was participating in the talks between Ukraine and Russia, said of the US and its European allies: “Basically, yes. They blocked it, and I thought they were wrong,” speaking of the efforts to end the war in March and April.
Another participant in the talks was Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who also confirmed a deal was close in comments to the Turkish press on March 20.
“We see that the parties are close to an agreement,” he said in a live stream at the time, Al Jazeera reported.
“Of course, it is not an easy thing to come to terms with while the war is going on, while civilians are killed, but we would like to say that momentum is still gained." US foreign policy advisor Fiona Hill added credence to the original report in an article she wrote for Foreign Affairs saying that a deal was indeed agreed, and suggested the deal was only dropped after Johnson’s visit to Kyiv. However, unlike the other commentators on the deal, Hill didn't participate in the talks, but as one of the top US advisors on Russia, it is very likely she was informed of the details of the negotiations.
The story remains controversial, as those that decry it argue that Putin’s campaign in Ukraine is an imperial campaign to rebuild the Soviet Union and won’t accept that he would contemplate halting hostilities for any reason. Any deal was simply a ruse to buy some time to re-arm and resupply Russia’s forces before a fresh attack.
If the deal was done then that would confirm the argument that the war in Ukraine was provoked by the Kremlin’s fear of Nato’s eastern expansion up to Russia’s borders and Russia’s growing security concerns – something that Putin has been complaining about since his famous speech in 2007 at the Munich Security Conference.
The failure of the March 2022 peace negotiations makes the chances of a new peace deal that has been discussed recently less likely. Lavrov was dismissive of the chance of fresh talks during his UN comments, saying: "We already tried that and a deal was agreed, but [was] rejected by the West. Why should we try again?"