Ukraine says talks in Turkey with Russia fail to make progress towards ceasefire

  2022-03-10 21:54      64 View Count        Comment

High-level talks between Russia and Ukraine ended without a ceasefire, as violence continued across the country, with conditions in the besieged city of Mariupol described as “dire and desperate” as residents run out of food.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said there had been no progress to achieving a ceasefire in talks in Turkey with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in the first high-level meeting between the two countries since the Moscow-ordered invasion of its neighbour two weeks ago.

Talks got under way near Antalya amid an outpouring of international outrage over Russia’s attack on a children’s hospital in the strategically-important city of Mariupol that killed at least three, including one child. The bombing of the 600-bed children’s and maternity hospital that injured pregnant women was evidence of “genocide” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said. The White House called the attack barbaric, while the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was convinced the “inhuman, cruel and tragic” act could be a war crime.

The day after the attack, the International Red Cross reported that conditions in Mariupol were ‘“increasingly dire and desperate”, as hundreds of thousands of people have no food, water, heat or electricity. The organisation’s delegation deputy head Sasha Volkov described the harrowing conditions in the city, with people reporting they had no food for children and attacking each other for sustenance.

Ukrainian officials say 1,207 bodies have been collected from the streets there in recent days. Workers are burying the dead in mass graves.

Meanwhile Ukraine’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, reported that half of the capital’s total population had left the city as Russian forces advance on the city. More than 2.3m people have fled Ukraine since the war began a fortnight ago, the UN refugee agency reported.

Bombs fell on two hospitals in a city west of Kyiv on Wednesday, its mayor said. The World Health Organization said it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the invasion began.

Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days, but they have intensified the bombardment of target cities.

The US vice president Kamala Harris, on a visit to Poland, backed calls for an international war crimes investigation into the invasion. “The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities,” she said.

In a video message to Russian leaders, Zelenskiy said: “You will definitely be prosecuted for war crimes. And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens – everyone whom you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when the they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.”

As refugees continued to pour into neighbouring countries, Ukraine’s foreign minister and officials were pictured sitting opposite the Russian delegation as the brief talks that Kuleba described as both “easy and difficult” got under way.

In comments after the talks broke up, Lavrov said the west had caused the conflict by forcing Ukraine to choose between Russia and the west. He dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as “pathetic shrieks” from Russia’s enemies and denied that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

He also claimed without evidence said the Mariupol children’s hospital had been seized by far right “Ukrainian radicals” who were using it as a base and denied that any patients were present despite photographs from the aftermath showing pregnant women and children at the site. In a later statement the Russian defence ministry denied it had carried out airstrikes in Mariupol and claimed the hospital attack was a “staged provocation” by Ukraine.

Kuleba called for Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol. He said Ukraine was ready for diplomacy but also able to defend itself as it appeared that Russia would fight on and was seeking a surrender from Kyiv that it was not prepared to offer.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who brokered the meeting, said before it began that the aim was to pave the way for talks between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Zelenskiy, facilitated by Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayip Erdoğan. Turkey, which is a Nato member and which has not imposed sanctions on Russia but has condemned the attack and allowed Turkish-built drones to be bought by Ukraine, is trying to position itself as a neutral broker in the conflict.

The Kremlin has said it would stop the war if Ukraine ceased military action, enshrined in its constitution that it had no plans to join Nato, gave up annexed Crimea and recognised the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.

Vladimir Putin, addressing a meeting of the Russian government, claimed the west was trying to blame Russia for its own mistakes with the US ban on oil and accused countries of deceiving their populations. He claimed Russia would emerge stronger after what he called the west’s “illegitimate” sanctions. “We are not going to close ourselves off. We are open to work with all our international partners who want this,” he said.

Despite the Kremlin bravado, the effect of sanctions continue to ripple through the Russian economy. On Wednesday the Fitch ratings agency warned of an imminent Russian default on sovereign debt and cut the country’s credit rating further into junk status, and on Thursday Goldman Sachs announced it was closing its operations in Russia, the first Wall Street bank to announce its departure.

EU leaders, meanwhile, met at Versailles to discuss Ukraine’s application to join their ranks.

Ahead of the Versailles summit, convened by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Kuleba stepped up the pressure on the EU to grant Ukraine a fast-track route to membership. Recounting a phone call he had with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Kuleba tweeted that he had “underscored the historic importance of granting EU membership to Ukraine which now fights for itself and entire Europe”.

While Ukraine’s membership bid, swiftly followed by applications from Georgia and Moldova, has been warmly welcomed by central and eastern European countries, older members are wary of moving too quickly, with a country at war that has long struggled with deep-rooted corruption.

“This will not happen in the short term, because this is a whole process taking many years,” the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said. France’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, agreed, saying: “It will take time.”

Acknowledging the divisions, a senior EU official said: “Part of the room wants to move swiftly, another part of the room of leaders wants to have some better distance and see, and have a proper discussion at a later stage whether Ukraine should join the union.”

Despite pressure from central and eastern European governments, the draft summit communique does not mention the EU’s membership application clause, treaty article 49.

Instead, EU leaders will invite the European Commission to submit an opinion on Ukraine’s application – the normal bureaucratic procedure – “pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership”, states a draft summit statement seen by the Guardian, with the recent addition: “Ukraine belongs to our European family.”

Separately, the UK announced on Thursday that it was adding seven Russian businessmen to its sanctions list, including the metals billionaire and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, described by the Foreign Office as “one of the few oligarchs from the 1990s to maintain prominence under Putin”.

The British government is also imposing asset freezes on Putin ally Igor Sechin, the owner of Russian state oil company Rosneft, and Oleg Deripaska, an aluminium magnate believed by the Foreign Office to be worth £2bn.

Meanwhile UK intelligence highlighted the strength of the Ukrainian resistance. In an update on Thursday, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said the large Russian column north-west of Kyiv had made “little progress in over a week” and suffers continued losses at the hands of Ukraine forces. The MoD added that there had been a noticeable drop in Russian air activity in recent days, probably due to the “unexpected effectiveness” of Ukraine’s forces. It also said Russia has deployed conscript troops despite assurances from Putin not to do so.

(The Guardian/PUKNOW)


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