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Putin's last liberal critic says deal to end war is inevitable

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Veteran Russian pro-democracy politician Grigory Yavlinsky is mounting what may be his last political challenge to Vladimir Putin to try to campaign for peace with Ukraine.

The three-time candidate is weighing another presidential election run against Putin. After receiving around 1% of the vote in the last election in 2018, he’s under no illusions about the outcome this time.

“I can tell you the results today – 75% turnout. 78% vote for Putin,” Yavlinsky said in an online interview from Moscow.

The upper house of Russia’s parliament on Thursday set March 17 as the date of the presidential election. Putin is widely expected to declare his candidacy for a fifth term, with officials determined to deliver a landslide victory that the Kremlin can portray as public endorsement of Russia’s war in Ukraine. With his opponents nearly all in jail or in exile, and public criticism of the war turned into a criminal offense, voices like Yavlinsky’s exist on the margins of political discussion.

The founder of the democratic Yabloko party said he held “a very serious conversation” with Putin lasting one-and-a-half hours on Oct. 26, their first talks in more than two years. Yavlinsky, 71, said he raised the need for a cease-fire and peace talks with the president though “there were no conclusions.”

Putin is suffering from “Versailles syndrome” over the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization toward Russia’s borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yavlinsky said, a reference to German resentment at World War I reparations that paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise.

 

Still, Yavlinsky directed his main message to the U.S. and its allies, urging them to seek talks on ending Europe’s worst conflict since World War II, with Ukraine struggling to oust Russian forces from occupied territory after a stalemate that’s persisted for the past year. “This is about safeguarding 80% of Ukrainian territory” that Kyiv controls today, he said.

Peace talks “may start within one month, a year or two years, but that moment will come — it’s inevitable,” he said. “We need to stop people dying. We’re paying a horrific price and Ukraine is being destroyed.”

Putin has given no sign he’s ready to enter negotiations to end the war that he started with the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Amid doubts over the future of U.S. and European military aid for Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war diverting world attention to the Middle East, the Kremlin regards time as on Putin’s side.

The government in Kyiv and its U.S. and European allies say the war would end tomorrow if Putin withdrew Russian troops from occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Crimea, which he annexed in 2014. They reject any deal involving territorial concessions that would reward Putin’s aggression.

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