On a visit to his Belarusian ally, Putin questions Zelenskyy’s legitimacy as Ukraine’s leader

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, (right), and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo prior to the talks at the Palace of Independence in Minsk, Belarus on May 24. (AP)

TALLINN, Estonia, May 25, (AP): Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his Belarusian counterpart and close ally for talks Friday in Minsk, after which he questioned whether Volodymyr Zelenskyy has the legitimacy to negotiate on Ukraine’s behalf.
Russia is willing to hold talks about the war in Ukraine, Putin said, but Zelenskyy’s five-year term in office was supposed to end May 20.
However, Zelenskyy has ruled out holding new presidential elections while his country is at war – something Putin apparently ignored in remarks to reporters.
Ukrainian legislation bans elections during martial law that has been in place since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022. The country would have to amend the law to elections during a state of war.
Russian officials have repeatedly called attention to the question of Zelenskyy’s term in office during the past week.
“Of course, we are aware that the legitimacy of the current head of state has ended,” Putin said at a news conference in Minsk after talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“We must be completely sure that we are dealing with legitimate authorities,” said Putin, who has repeatedly stated that Russia is ready for talks with Ukraine.
However, Zelenskyy has rejected the preconditions that Russia has put forth for talks, including allowing Russia to retain the territory Kremlin’s forces have taken since the February 2022 invasion.
An international peace conference on Ukraine is to be held in Switzerland in June, but Russia has not been not invited and Putin has dismissed the conference’s importance.
The two-day visit to Belarus was one of several foreign tours Putin used to kick off his fifth term in office.

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