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Russian political leader opposing the war: ‘Russia and Ukraine urgently need to talk and stop the massacre’

Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Yabloko party, told Putin in their October meeting that a ceasefire is ‘absolutely necessary’

Pilar Bonet
Guerra de Rusia en Ucrania
Grigori Yavlinsky, leader of the Russian Yabloko party, during a protest in Moscow; August 2019.Alexander Zemlianichenko (AP)

The Israel-Hamas war seems to have fueled Kremlin’s ambition and aggression. Will Vladimir Putin try to capitalize on the conflict in the Middle East to better his position in Ukraine? The Russian president must make a decision, or maybe he already has.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the politician and founder of the Russian United Democratic Party Yabloko, the sole, legal opposition party in Russia, met President Putin on October 26. In their 90-minute meeting, Yavlinsky emphasized the importance of a ceasefire that would enable peace talks to commence. Yavlinsky had to spend three days in quarantine before meeting with Putin.

“The large number of fatalities and ongoing casualties, along with future prospects, should compel Russian leaders to engage in talks. However, this is not happening,” said Yavlinsky in a WhatsApp conversation with EL PAÍS. “The longer this war goes on, the more lives are lost and the less optimistic the outlook becomes. Stopping the massacre is a pressing matter.” Yavlinsky offered to act as a mediator for a ceasefire with Ukraine. However, Putin did not respond, leaving doubts about whether the veteran politician from the Ukrainian city of Lviv made any impact on the stubborn president.

“In November 2022, Ukraine had a significant opportunity to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia after it liberated Kherson and Kharkiv. Ukraine could have retained 80% of its territory, protected its people and paved the way for a promising future. It could have been a decisive turning point,” said Yavlinsky.

“It’s not up to me — a Russian — to dictate what Ukraine should do. Russia started all of this, and we’re not in a position to lecture anyone,” said the politician who has been a presidential candidate several times. In March, he will run again in the presidential elections if he can collect the required 10 million signatures for candidacy. The Yabloko party views the number of signatures as an indicator of public opposition to the war. A survey conducted by the Levada Center in October revealed that 56% of Russians support peace talks, while 37% are in favor of continuing the war.

“Ukraine had six months between last fall and this spring to make major gains, but they didn’t realize it,” said Yavlinsky. “The Americans didn’t realize this either, or they just didn’t want a ceasefire. So, things got worse for Ukraine, especially after the war in the Middle East erupted. This conflict prevents Ukraine from getting the resources and attention it needs from the United States and the European Union. The consequences have been are more death and senseless military actions — the price is very high. In politics, timing is crucial. If you miss an opportunity, it’s lost forever.”

Signals from the Kremlin suggest a lack of interest in dialogue. In response to Valerii Zaluzhnyi’s (Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) comments about the stalemated war, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov denied that it was stuck in a “dead end.” “Russia will continue to pursue its special military operation [official euphemism for the war in Ukraine]. All the established objectives must be met,” said Peskov. “Ukraine should have realized long ago that any illusions of victory on the battlefield are simply absurd.” Yavlinksi acknowledged that Russia’s power and resources far exceed Ukraine’s. Western experts have stated publicly that Ukraine will likely lose some territory to Russia. Yavlinsky believes Moscow is unlikely to agree to special NATO security guarantees for Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv’s agreement to cede territory to Russia.

Considering the evolving landscape of international politics, Yavlinsky expresses skepticism about the enduring validity of traditional “security guarantees.” He believes that security in the 21st century is dynamic, requiring constant efforts to sustain it. “Prioritizing human life, freedom and creativity should be more important [to Ukraine] than territorial concerns, particularly in areas riddled with mines.”

“As we approach the mid-21st century, it’s clear that Europe cannot thrive without Russia, let alone in a state of confrontation. Europe’s economic competitiveness with respect to Asia and America depends heavily on Russia and its resources. But Russia is still experiencing the consequences of post-Soviet modernization mistakes,” he adds.

“People might feel disappointed about Russia and reject it, but countries can change. In the 21st century, the measure of a country is more than the area of its territory — it’s about citizen freedoms.” Yavlinsky compares Russia to a patient who has been mysteriously ill since 1991. “We don’t know if this patient is recovering in the intensive care unit, or whether it’s waiting to die in palliative care. But I still believe and hope in the future.”

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