Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that it would be possible for his country to adopt a formal non-nuclear status as part of a deal to end the war with Russia.
Speaking in an interview with Russian media, Zelenskyy said peace talks between Russia and Ukraine continue and called the country's non-nuclear status "the most important" issue on the agenda.
"The nuclear-free status of our state, we are ready to go for it. This is the most important point (in the talks)," he said.
Ukraine has not had nuclear weapons since 1996 after it agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear arsenal with the condition that its borders were respected under the Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the US, UK, and Russia. Moscow, however, may seek assurances that nuclear weapons are not deployed to Ukraine in the future, by NATO for instance.
Zelenskyy said he is interested in signing "a serious agreement" which would contain security guarantees for Ukraine and would be signed by all guarantors.
Such a treaty must be also ratified by the guarantor countries and approved by a referendum in Ukraine, as the security guarantees suggest constitutional changes, and the quickest way to introduce such amendments is through a nationwide referendum, he said.
However, he stressed that holding a referendum during wartime is impossible.
'We are interested in turning this paper (a peace treaty draft) into a serious agreement, which will be signed where there are security guarantees, by all the guarantors of this security. It must be ratified by the parliaments of the guarantor countries. And there must be a referendum in Ukraine. Security guarantees imply constitutional changes," he said.
Apart from Russia, Ukraine would also like to settle "historical issues" with Hungary, Poland, and Romania, Zelenskyy said, probably meaning that some parts of Ukraine previously belonged to those countries.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine's main goal for now is to decrease the terms of the war, force Russian troops to "compromise territories" – those under control of pro-Russian separatists before the war such as Donbas – as an attempt to force Russia to completely liberate Ukraine could lead to World War III, he warned.
"To minimize the number of victims, to shorten the duration of this war. To withdraw the troops of the Russian Federation to compromise territories – and this is all that was before Feb. 24, before the (Russian) attack. Let them go back there. I understand that it is impossible to force Russia to completely liberate the territory, this would lead to a Third World War," he said.
On the possibility of a referendum in Donbas’ breakaway Luhansk enclave joining Russia, Zelenskyy said he does not take seriously the statements of rebel leaders in the region.
Zelenskyy claims 90% of buildings in Mariupol destroyed
On the port city of Mariupol, Zelenskyy said it is blocked by Russian armed forces from outside while Ukraine's troops stay inside the city.
"I talked to these guys (Ukrainian servicemen in Mariupol). I told them that – I understand everything, guys, we will definitely come back. But if you feel that you need to be (there), and you feel that this is the right thing to do and that you can survive, do it. But I gave them the right to choose," he said.
He said that according to agreements so far there were several rounds of evacuation and that civil and passenger transport left the city in the direction of other parts of Ukraine.
According to Zelenskyy, 90% of buildings in Mariupol have been destroyed, while in some other cities, including Volnovakha "there is nothing" left.
Zelenskyy said he does not worry about assassination attempts, as his guards protect him.
"Our guards deal with these issues and eliminate problematic elements that come here to hunt. There's nothing more to say," he said.
He also explained his decision to ban 11 political parties in the country by the need to maintain order during wartime.
He also claimed that some Russian oligarchs offered him his services, including financial support to Ukraine's army.
"Some people – do not want to give their surnames – but they say ‘we want to help your army, also we are citizens of the Russian Federation’," he said.
Zelenskyy said he is ready to consider proposals and give such people Ukrainian citizenship.
As for the Russian people in general, he said: "The attitude after the 24th (of February) deteriorated very much, even to the people, and the hatred of everything Russian will definitely grow further."
International bans on Russian participation
Zelenskyy also approved the ban on Russian athletes taking part in international competitions, saying those who left Russia without the war with Ukraine are not innocent.
"The international boycott of Russian athletes who have nothing to do with politics is the right decision,” he said.
"Citizens who have left, cultural figures, directors, journalists, athletes, to say that they are all innocent is also unfair if they did not raise their voice anywhere at least once, at least one post in social networks, at least once appearance at a square," he said.
The Russia-Ukraine war, which started on Feb. 24, has met international outrage with the EU, US, and the UK, among others, implementing tough financial sanctions on Moscow.
At least 1,119 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 1,790 injured, according to UN estimates, with the true figure feared to be far higher.
More than 3.82 million Ukrainians have also fled to neighboring countries, with millions more displaced inside the country, according to the UN refugee agency.