The frontline in Eastern Ukraine near Shumi. Photo: Emil Filtenborg

The Ukrainian President has yet again opened the door for a referendum on the status of Donbas and Crimea. That statement comes after talks with the U.S. 

Tensions are high at the moment between Ukraine and Russia, which some people fear could lead to yet another Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to Ukraine Business News, the number of Russian soldiers close to Ukraine has risen from 94,000 to 175,000 and there are continued reports of Russian military hardware being moved close to Ukraine. 

According to several experts, Russia is looking for security guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO and that no lethal NATO weapons will be stationed near its border. Russia also wants to bring the U.S into the negotiations over peace in Donbas, where parts of the territory have been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, experts say. 

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently said that he doesn’t rule out a referendum on the status of Donbas and Crimea, according to

“I do not rule out a referendum on Donbas in general. And here the issue is not in status. We may have this in life. This (referendum – Ed.) Maybe on Donbas, on the Crimea. It may be in general,” – said Zelensky to the 1+1 TV channel and added: 

“It may be about ending the war in general. It may be that someone, some country, will offer us certain conditions. It may be so. I would not joke about such things and I would not have any secrets, because these are very important things that concern our status,… our territories. But if there is such a difficult challenge, I will definitely consult with our society.”

The stranded peace negotiations

Zelensky’s comments come after a call with U.S President Joe Biden. Earlier this week, Biden also spoke to the Russian President Vladimir Putin to deescalate the situation and some experts are speculating that Biden is pressuring Zelensky to move forward with a referendum over the status of Donbas and Crimea to avoid a new Russian invasion.

Peace negotiations over the war in Donbas take place in both the so-called Minsk Format (consisting of representatives from Ukraine, Russian, Luhansk People’s Republic, and Donetsk People’s Republic) and in the Normandie Format (consisting of representatives from Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia). However, for more than a year, negotiations have been stalled and the situation near the frontline worsened, especially since Spring. 

Zelensky, who was elected President back in 2019 on the promise of ending the war, has continued to say that he is ready to discuss peace with Russia. However, the parties disagree on the conditions. One problem is that Russia wants a Donbas referendum to be held while the separatists are in control of the territory, while Ukraine has been demanding that they regain control of the territory before a referendum is possible. 

Zelinsky’s problem is also that he doesn’t have support for large concessions in all parts of Ukrainian society. In 2019, when Zelensky agreed to the so-called Steinmeier agreement (agreeing to hold elections in the separatist-held territories), large demonstrations against the President broke out in Ukraine as a warning against further steps. 

Demonstration against Zelensky back in 2019. Photo: Emil Filtenborg.

The war in Donbas broke out in 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine. It has since claimed more than 13,000 lives, according to the UN. The war started after the Maidan Revolution and the Russian annexation of Crimea. 

The American warnings

It is yet unclear what is the U.S approach to potential peace talks and how far they will go to accommodate the Russians to prevent a potential new war in Ukraine. The White House has said, they will provide Ukraine with arms, if Russia attacks. Furthermore, Joe Biden has made it clear that Russia will be met with massive economic sanctions. 

“There were no minced words. It was polite, but I made it very clear: If in fact, he invades Ukraine, there’ll be severe consequences,” Biden told reporters after the meeting with Putin, adding that Russia would be met with some of the strongest sanctions ever seen.

“The idea of the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now,” said Biden, according to ABC News, “But it would depend upon what the rest of the NATO countries were willing to do as well.”

Furthermore, the U.S has also been warning that a new Russian invasion of Ukraine will mean that the Russian Nord Stream 2 will be closed. 

“If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House recently, according to Reuters.

Nord Stream 2 might be rejected if Russia invades Ukraine