Russia must withdraw troops as part of peace deal, say Scholz and Zelenskyy

There should be no face-saving for Vladimir Putin at the expense of Ukrainian territorial integrity, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed on a phone call Tuesday.

During the call the leaders affirmed that any peace deal between Moscow and Kyiv must not allow the Russian president to keep any Ukrainian territories that were conquered as part of his brutal invasion, but must instead involve a withdrawal of Russian troops. In some regions, Ukrainian forces have pushed back the Russian military.

Both leaders “agreed that a diplomatic negotiated solution between Ukraine and Russia would require an immediate end to hostilities from the Russia side and a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine,” a spokesman for Scholz said after the call. “The chancellor and the Ukrainian president also continued their exchange on ways to further support Ukraine and agreed to remain in close contact,” he added.

However, the spokesperson did not specify whether Scholz’s demand for a withdrawal of Russian troops also included the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and the territories in eastern Ukraine that separatists occupied that same year with Russian support — or whether Scholz meant a restoration of the status quo prior to the outbreak of Russia’s full-fledged invasion on February 24.

The message from Berlin follows a strong Ukrainian pushback against considerations in Western European capitals that they might have to offer Putin a “face-saving” solution to end the conflict that does not “humiliate” the Russian leader and cause further destabilization.

Scholz faced criticism last week for having urged Putin in a phone call to reach “a ceasefire in Ukraine as quickly as possible,” without mentioning any demand that Russia must immediately withdraw all its forces from Ukrainian territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have made similar remarks. This led Zelenskyy to last week publicly accuse Macron of looking “in vain” for “a way out for Russia.” The Elysée rejected Zelenskyy’s allegations.