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Moscow, Kiev in second round of talks as battles rage in key cities

Kiev/Moscow, 3 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Moscow and Kiev began a second round of negotiations in western Belarus on Thursday just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his country’s demands in a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

The talks are taking place in western Belarus, with the Russian delegation led by presidential adviser Vladimir Medinsky and its Ukrainian counterpart led by David Arachamija, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling party.

Both sides had agreed on the Brest region in western Belarus as the venue for the talks and the Russian military planned a “security corridor” to allow the Ukrainian delegation’s passage.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has urged Russia to declare a ceasefire in the hard-hit eastern regions of Kharkiv and Sumy to allow civilians to reach safety.

The first negotiations on Monday at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border brought no tangible results. Russian attacks continued to pummel Ukraine, and several explosions were registered in Kiev early Thursday, the eighth day of the invasion, triggering air raid sirens.

In a phone call with Macron, Putin reiterated Russia’s call for the demilitarization of Ukraine, as well as its inability to join the NATO military alliance.

At the same time, the Kremlin threatened: “Attempts to gain time by dragging out the negotiations will only lead to additional demands on Kiev in our negotiating position.”

Meanwhile, pro-Russian separatists “tightened their circle” around the strategically important city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, a Defence Ministry spokesman in Moscow said Thursday.

Igor Konashenkov claimed that the forces had gained control of three more communities in the area surrounding Mariupol, according to Russian news agencies. They also reportedly took over the city of Balakleya, south-east of the city of Kharkiv.

These claims could not be independently verified.

Mariupol residents had been offered the opportunity to head east towards separatist-controlled areas the previous day.

Konashenkov again said that Russia was “taking measures to ensure the security of civilians,” despite mounting reports of missile strikes on urban residential areas across Ukraine.

The defence official said civilians could leave the embattled village of Borodyanka “through a specially designated corridor.” The offer is seen as a harbinger of a major Russian attack.

There is an airfield near Borodyanka.

According to the Russians, 62 Ukrainian aircraft, 53 drones and more than 600 tanks and armoured vehicles have been destroyed since the invasion began last week, as well as a total of 1,612 military objects.

Konashenkov did not give any information on casualties suffered by the Russian side. On Wednesday, Moscow had said that 498 Russian soldiers have been killed. Kiev claims Russian losses are much higher.

The news comes several days after Putin ordered the country’s deterrent weapons be put on special alert.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Western countries’ alarm over a possible nuclear escalation as “scaremongering.”

“Everyone knows that a third World War can only be a nuclear one,” Lavrov said. “I assure you that we will not allow provocations that make us lose our balance.”

Also on Thursday, Germany’s Economy Ministry approved the delivery of 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a dramatic political shift after a long-standing export ban on weaponry to Ukraine.

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