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Ukraine rejects Belarus as Russia talks host, lists alternatives

A helicopter flies over troops during a joint military drill of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus in the Brest region of Belarus on February 19 [File: Vadim Yakubyonok/Belta/Handout via Reuters]

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukraine is ready for peace talks with Russia but not in neighbouring Belarus, an ally of Moscow which used it as a staging ground for its multipronged invasion.

Speaking in Russian in a video message on Sunday, Zelenskyy left the door open for negotiations elsewhere and listed the cities of Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues.

He said other locations were also possible but stressed Ukraine does not accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.

“Any other city in a country from whose territory missiles do not fly would suit us,” Zelenskyy said.

Earlier, the Kremlin said a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Gomel for talks and was waiting for the Ukrainian officials.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes representatives from the foreign ministry, defence ministry and presidential administration.

“We are ready to start these negotiations in Gomel,” Peskov said, according to the TASS news agency.

But Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine wants only “real” negotiations, calling Russia’s decision to send the delegation to Belarus for talks “propaganda”.

“They arrived in Gomel knowing that it was pointless. And now they say – ‘we are waiting’,” he told Reuters news agency.

“Zelenskyy’s position remains unchanged: only real negotiations, no ultimatums.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, with troops moving from Belarus in the north, as well as from the east and the south.