Ukraine's president reiterates readiness to talk to Putin

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Zelenskiy and British PM Johnson address a session of parliament, in Kyiv
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By Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has reiterated an offer to hold direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine should be the starting point for any discussions.

"As president, I am ready to talk to Putin, but only to him. Without any of his intermediaries. And in the framework of dialogue, not ultimatums," he told Italy's RAI 1 television in an interview shown in Ukraine on Friday.

Ukraine and Russia have not held face-to-face peace talkssince March 29. Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky was quoted by Interfax news agency on Monday as saying peace talks were being held remotely.

Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by telephone on Friday that progress in negotiations over an end to the conflict had been "essentially blocked by Kyiv," the Kremlin said. Kyiv blames Moscow for the lack of progress.

In his fullest public comments for weeks on the prospects of peace talks, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would not compromise over its territorial integrity.

He ruled out suggestions - which he attributed to Paris - that Ukraine should make concessions for the sake of securing a peace agreement that would allow Putin to save face.

"Get out of this territory that you have occupied since February 24," he said. "This is the first clear step to talking about anything."

Russian forces have taken control of the southern city of Mariupol but are struggling to make headway in Ukraine's north and east after abandoning a push towards Kyiv.

Russia also controls the Crimea peninsula, which it seized and annexed in 2014, and Russia-backed separatists have declared "people's republics" in areas they control in two provinces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv had offered to keep Crimea out of talks for now if it complicated efforts to end the war or made talks between him and Putin more complicated. But he added: "We will never recognise Crimea as part of the Russian Federation."

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)