At the start of the war, Vladimir Putin’s ambassador to Ukraine struck a tentative deal with Kiev to avoid joining NATO. But Putin rejected that deal offer and pressed ahead with his military campaign. This information was reported by the news agency Reuters citing three sources close to Putin.

Ukrainian-born ambassador Dmitriy Kozak told Putin he believed the deal he rejected eliminated Russia’s need for a large-scale occupation of Ukraine, the sources said.

Putin repeatedly insisted before the war that NATO and its military infrastructure were moving closer to Russia’s borders by adding new members from Eastern Europe. The coalition is now preparing to bring Ukraine into its alliance. Putin has publicly said the process threatens Russia’s existence. So he will be forced to respond.

Sources told Reuters that despite backing talks before the war, Putin made it clear when presenting Kozak’s deal that a deal brokered by his aide did not go far. So he broadened his objectives to include a stake in the territory of Ukraine. Because of which the deal was originally dropped.

Asked about Reuters’ findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, ‘It has nothing to do with reality. No such thing ever happened. This is completely wrong information.’

Kozak did not respond to the Kremlin’s request for comment.

Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said Russia used the talks as a smokescreen to prepare for its attack.

But he did not confirm whether a preliminary agreement had been reached.

“Today, we clearly understand that the Russian side was never interested in a peaceful settlement,” Podoliak said.

Two of the three sources said there was pressure to implement the agreement immediately after the February 24 attack. According to Kozak, he made the agreement according to the main conditions that Russia gave to Ukraine and recommended that Putin sign the agreement.

A source close to the Russian leadership told Reuters, ‘Kozak was given full powers after February 24. He was given the green signal for the deal. He was asked to clarify everything about the contract. Everything was later cancelled. Putin simply made his plans and moved on.’

A third source knew about the incident and was briefed on the Kozak-Putin talks. He said it was Kozak who offered Putin the deal. But he rejected it.

Although Putin agrees to Kozak’s plan, it remains uncertain whether the war will end. But Reuters could not verify whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky or senior officials in his government were committed to the deal.

Kozak, 63, has been Putin’s loyal lieutenant since working with Putin in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s. Kozak was able to negotiate a peace treaty. Because since 2020, Putin has given him the responsibility of conducting talks with his Ukrainian counterparts about the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

The latest round of talks ended without progress, Kozak said at a late-night press conference after leading the Russian delegation to talks with Ukrainian officials in Berlin on February 10, brokered by France and Germany.

Three days before the attack, Kozak was also present when Putin gathered his military and security chiefs and key aides at the Kremlin’s Yekaterinsky Hall for a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.

State television recorded parts of the meeting, in which Putin outlined plans to formally recognize separatist entities in eastern Ukraine.

TV cameras were kicked out of Putin’s room once in the middle of a meeting, two of the three people close to the Russian leadership said. Kozak then advised against taking any steps to escalate the situation with Ukraine.

Talks broke down in early March when Ukrainian officials realized Putin was determined to push through a large-scale offensive, Reuters reported, citing a person involved in the post-invasion talks.

Six months after the start of the war, Kozak remained in his post as the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff. But he is no longer handling the Ukraine dossier, six sources told Reuters.

(September 14)