Russian official sees progress with Ukraine on neutrality, not on 'denazification'

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky as they watch the project of a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, during a visit at firearms maker Kalashnikov Concern in Izhevsk, Russia, September 20, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS

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LONDON, March 18 (Reuters) - Russia's lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine said on Friday they were making progress on the topic of demilitarising the country, but not on Moscow's demand to "denazify" its neighbour.

Twenty-two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, and after a series of talks in person and by video link, Vladimir Medinsky said the two countries were "halfway there" on the question of Ukraine adopting neutral status.

"On denazification, the situation is quite strange because our Ukrainian colleagues on the other side of the table consider there are no Nazi formations in Ukraine and this is not an issue in modern Ukraine," he said.

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Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what President Vladimir Putin called a special operation to reduce its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukraine and the West reject his stated objectives of demilitarising and "denazifying" the country as a pretext for a war of choice against a country with a democratically elected Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Medinsky said Russia would keep raising the matter in the talks, saying Ukraine harboured "permitted Nazi military formations" with their own symbolism, training and ideology.

"I think we will definitely return to this question again and again," he said.

Zelenskiy has said it is Russia that is behaving like the Nazis by visiting destruction on Ukrainian cities in a war that has killed thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes.

"This is just a pure Nazi behaviour. I can't even qualify this in any different manner," he told an American Jewish group last week.

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Reporting by Reuters, Editing by William Maclean

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