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Moscow offers Mariupol ceasefire, issues deadline to Ukraine

Russia says it has offered a ceasefire in the embattled Ukrainian city of Mariupol to allow civilians to evacuate, and issued a deadline for Kyiv to declare its own cessation of fighting.

Berlin/Moscow, 31 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) — Russia says it has offered a ceasefire in the embattled Ukrainian city of Mariupol to allow civilians to evacuate, and issued a deadline for Kyiv to declare its own cessation of fighting.

Russia’s army is declaring a humanitarian ceasefire on Thursday morning from 10 am [0700 GMT] with the goal of allowing civilians to flee first to Berdyansk and then on to Zaporizhia, Russian Major General Mikhail Mizintsev said Wednesday, as cited by Interfax news agency.

Ukraine must declare its own ceasefire and inform Russia, the United Nations and the International Red Cross in writing by 6 am for the measure to come into effect.

Kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of sabotaging the escape of residents from Mariupol, which has been surrounded by Russian troops for weeks.

Peace talks will continue online between the two countries on Friday, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia, said on Telegram late Wednesday.

“Yes, there is a negotiation process that will continue. But so far it’s just words. Nothing concrete,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message.

Only the situation on the battlefield shows how things really are, he said.

Russia agreed to significantly reduce its combat operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv in peace talks with Ukraine held in Istanbul on Tuesday, but many observers see what Moscow has spun as a withdrawal of troops as more of a rotation and resupply of units.

Kyiv has noticed a deployment of Russian troops for new attacks in the Donbas region, Zelensky said. “And we’re preparing for that.”

He also said Russia is not withdrawing voluntarily from the areas around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, but is rather being ousted from there by the Ukrainian army.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov had earlier said a “planned regrouping” of its troops near the two cities was taking place as the soldiers had achieved their main aims there. The troop redeployment was being carried out to enable “the operation to fully liberate the Donbas,” he said.

Though there were no breakthroughs in the peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv in Istanbul, it was positive that the Ukrainian side had for the first time submitted written proposals, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Ukraine had indicated it was ready to renounce joining NATO and to adopt a neutral status – if granted security guarantees by third countries to include the US.

“We have moved to pragmatism. This is the key thing,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukrainian television on Wednesday.

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine almost five weeks ago and is widely understood to have miscalculated the strength of the Ukrainian resistance, which has severely limited Russian military gains.

According to British intelligence, Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to retreat to Russia and allied Belarus this week to reorganize and resupply.

Russia was likely to compensate for its reduced ground capacity with “mass artillery and missile strikes,” British officials said in a memo posted on Twitter.

The US believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about “how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions,” White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said, citing intelligence reports.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian military claimed to have destroyed two ammunition depots in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk with ground-to-ground missiles.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned an attack on the Red Cross in the besieged port city of Mariupol. “Today, a Red Cross building in Mariupol was hit,” Macron tweeted on Wednesday. “The International Red Cross is a neutral and impartial actor that must not be targeted.”

He said the same applied to civilians, caregivers or the sick. “Once again, emphatically: ceasefire and respect for humanitarian law!”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused Russian forces in Crimea of releasing Ukrainian naval mines captured in 2014 when Russia annexed the peninsula into the Black Sea in an attempt to damage Ukraine’s reputation.

According to UN figures, more than 1,100 civilians have been killed so far, although the actual number is probably much higher.

More than 4 million people have now fled Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion, according to the UN refugee agency. Additionally, about 6.5 million are believed to be internally displaced.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the shelling of civilian targets in Ukraine violated international law, telling the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: “Arbitrary attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes.”

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