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Kyiv and Moscow suspend peace talks amid Mariupol prisoner swap row

Ukraine and Russia suspended negotiations to end the war on Tuesday as a row erupted over a possible prisoner exchange in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Kyiv/Moscow, 18 May 2022 (dpa/MIA) — Ukraine and Russia suspended negotiations to end the war on Tuesday as a row erupted over a possible prisoner exchange in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Kyiv’s negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Ukrainian television that progress could not be made in talks if Russia did not recognize the situation on the ground.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, saying it wanted to “denazify” the country, to the bewilderment of the international community. Moscow has since seen a series of major setbacks in its military operation, but seems close to taking the port city of Mariupol.

“To this day, they live in a world where there is supposedly a Ukrainian Nazism,” Podolyak said, adding there was only “Russian Nazism.”

A ceasefire could be discussed only after a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, he said, with only a complete liberation of all occupied territories acceptable.

Russia earlier confirmed the end of talks. “No, negotiations will not continue. Ukraine has practically left the negotiation process,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko told reporters.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday.

German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Scholz and Zelensky had agreed “that a diplomatic, negotiated solution between Ukraine and Russia” was necessary to end the conflict.

Russia must immediately end its combat operations and withdraw its troops from Ukraine, the leaders agreed.

Zelensky described his phone call with Scholz as “quite productive,” with military support for Ukraine among the topics discussed, he said in his daily video address on Tuesday night.

The Kremlin accused the West of waging a diplomatic, economic and political war on Russia.

“They are enemy states. Because what they are doing is war,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The head of the Russian parliament further fuelled mistrust as he spoke out against a prisoner exchange following the capture of Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol.

“Nazi criminals are not subject to exchange. They are war criminals and we must do everything to bring them to justice,” Vyacheslav Volodin said during a plenary session.

Ukraine hopes for an exchange of the more than 260 of its own soldiers who had left the besieged Azovstal steelworks.

Some of the Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol belong to the far-right nationalist Azov regiment, seen by Moscow as a neo-Nazi unit.

The Russian military said it had captured 265 Ukrainian fighters from the plant since Monday.

“In the past 24 hours, 265 fighters, including 51 seriously wounded, have laid down their weapons and were taken into captivity,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

The numbers differ slightly from Kyiv’s information, which spoke of 264 prisoners, among them 52 seriously injured.

The Russian ministry published a video showing the capture of the Ukrainians, medical treatment being administered and the injured being taken away.

Efforts to rescue the last remaining Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol continue, according to Kyiv.

“We are working on further stages of the humanitarian operation,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.

Hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the plant in recent days.

Meanwhile, British intelligence said Russian armed forces are increasingly relying on “indiscriminate artillery bombardment” of Ukraine and “an unwillingness to risk flying combat aircraft routinely beyond its own front lines.”

Several buildings were attacked in the western Russian region of Kursk on the border with Ukraine, Kursk Governor Roman Starovoyt announced. This could not be independently verified.

Seven civilians were killed in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region by Russian troops, the head of the local military administration said.

At least 382 civilians have been killed and 1,096 injured in Donetsk alone since Russia’s invasion, according to Ukrainian figures.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited Ukraine’s Kherson on Tuesday, and said the region would take a “worthy place in our Russian family,” RIA Novosti reported.

His visit came days after the Russian-installed government in the Ukrainian province said it plans to appeal to Moscow for the right to become part of Russia.

The developments in the war came as Sweden and Finland were on the verge of joining the western defense alliance NATO and the International Criminal Court (ICC) sent a team of 42 experts to Ukraine to investigate possible war crimes.

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