Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told a conference he could not exclude the possibility of a full-scale war with Russia even as he said he continues to seek a peace agreement with the Kremlin to end fighting in two eastern regions.
When asked on September 10 at the annual Yalta European Strategy (YES) summit about the likelihood of a large-scale war with Russia, Zelenskiy said it would be the “worst thing” that could happen, but did not rule it out.
“There is such a possibility,” he said, adding it would be the “biggest mistake” by Russia.
The Kremlin earlier this year amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and in the annexed territory of Crimea in what the United States called an act of intimidation against Kyiv.
The military buildup came as Ukrainian forces battle Russian-backed fighters in two eastern regions in a low-intensity war that has killed more than 13,200 since 2014.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the fighting, even though there is substantial evidence of Russian fighters and arms crossing into Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said he has been seeking another meeting with Putin to resolve the fighting in the east, but said the Russian president has shown little interest. The two first met in Paris in December 2019 for peace talks.
“They do not see the point in this -- to solve the issue and quickly end the war,” Zelenskiy said. “And this is my problem...how to make them make them want to talk about the de-occupation of our territories in detail.”
Zelenskiy, a political novice, won in a landslide in 2019 in part on a promise to end the war in the east.
In the months after taking power, Zelenskiy reached three agreements with Russia and the Russian-backed fights on prisoner exchanges. However, the completion of those swaps has not led to a breakthrough in peace talks, with fighting in the east picking up in recent months.
During the YES conference, Zelenskiy reiterated his desire to have Ukraine join NATO, saying his nation would be a strong addition to the military alliance.
Russia has called Ukraine’s membership in NATO a “red line.”
Zelenskiy raised the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine with U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month during his first official trip to Washington.
The Biden administration has said the door is open to Ukraine to join NATO in the future, but did not give a clear path to membership.