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Putin: Legitimacy of Ukrainian President Zelenskiy is over

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's legitimacy would be called into question due to the expiration of his five-year term. This could pose a legal hurdle if peace negotiations were to resume between Russia and Ukraine.

Reuters WORLD
Published May 24,2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had no legitimacy following the expiry of his five-year term and this would raise a legal obstacle if Russia and Ukraine were to resume peace talks.

With Ukraine still under martial law in the third year of Russia's full-scale invasion, Zelenskiy has not faced elections despite the expiry of his five-year term this week - something he and Ukraine's allies deem to be the right decision to take at a time of war.

Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognises the current battlefield lines, Reuters reported on Friday, citing four Russian sources, but is ready to fight on if Kyiv and the West do not respond.

But at a televised press conference during a visit to Belarus, Putin said the status of Zelenskiy was problematic.

"But who to negotiate with? That's not an idle question... Of course we realise the legitimacy of the incumbent head of state is over," he said.

Putin said the West would use a Swiss-hosted conference on the war, due to take place next month, to endorse Zelenskiy's legitimacy but these were "PR steps" with no legal meaning.

He said peace should be worked out through common sense, not ultimatums. It should be based on draft documents that were worked out between the two sides in the early weeks of the war, and on "today's realities on the ground" - a reference to the fact that Russia controls nearly 20% of Ukraine.

"If it gets to that point, we will need of course to understand who we should and can deal with, to arrive at signing legally binding documents. And then we must be fully sure we are dealing with legitimate (Ukrainian) authorities," Putin said.

Putin's comments are likely to be taken by Ukraine and its Western allies as further evidence that he has no real intention of entering peace talks, despite frequently stating his willingness to negotiate.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly said peace on Putin's terms is a non-starter. He has vowed to retake lost territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. He signed a decree in 2022 that formally declared any talks with Putin "impossible".