VLADIMIR Putin defied advice from a top aide to accept a peace deal offered by Ukraine and pressed ahead with his invasion, sources close to the leader claim.
The Russian tyrant rejected the agreement tabled by his chief envoy even though it would have satisfied his demand for Ukraine to stay out of NATO, it is reported.
Presidential aide Dmitry Kozak tried to reason with Putin that he believed he had nailed a provisional agreement that removed the need for the bloody war, three people close to the Russian leadership told Reuters.
But Putin argued Kozak's negotiation deal did not go far enough and that he had expanded his objectives – including annexing large amounts of Ukrainian territory, the insiders claim.
Ahead of the invasion, the Russian leader fumed that NATO and its military infrastructure was creeping closer to Russia's border by accepting new members from eastern Europe.
He said the alliance was preparing to bring Ukraine into its orbit and claimed it represented an "existential threat" to Russia, forcing him to react.
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Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said Russia had used the negotiations as a smokescreen to prepare for its invasion.
He said: "Today, we clearly understand that the Russian side has never been interested in a peaceful settlement."
Asked about Reuters findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "That has absolutely no relation to reality. No such thing ever happened. It is absolutely incorrect information."
Kozak did not respond to requests for comment sent via the Kremlin.
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It comes as Putin suffers humiliation in Ukraine as he suffers major losses amid a Ukrainian counterattack.
President Zelensky vowed to keep storming forward as his troops reached the edge of Russian-held Donbas in a stunning counter-attack.
Ukraine's military appears to have made stunning gains on its eastern and southern fronts, amid the reported collapse of the Russian military resolve.
Two of the three sources said a push to get the deal finalised happened immediately after Russia invaded on February 24.
Within days, Kozak believed he had Ukraine's agreement to the main terms Russia had been seeking and recommended to Putin that he sign an agreement, the sources said.
One insider said: "After February 24, Kozak was given carte blanche: they gave him the green light; he got the deal.
"He brought it back and they told him to clear off. Everything was cancelled. Putin simply changed the plan as he went along,"
The third source – who was told about the events by people who were briefed on the discussions between Kozak and Putin – differed on the timing.
They said Kozak had proposed the deal to Putin, and had it rejected, just before the invasion.
Kozak, who is 63, has been a loyal lieutenant to Putin since working with him in the 1990s in the St. Petersburg mayor's office.
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Six months on from the start of the war, Kozak remains in his post as Kremlin deputy chief of staff.
But he is no longer handling the Ukraine dossier, according to six of the sources who spoke to Reuters.
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