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Ukraine notes no progress in talks with Russia as Mariupol suffers

The top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine indicated they were willing to conduct further talks after an inconclusive meeting on Thursday, as the Ukrainian city of Mariupol came increasingly under siege from the Russian military.

Moscow/Antalya, Turkey, 11 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) — The top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine indicated they were willing to conduct further talks after an inconclusive meeting on Thursday, as the Ukrainian city of Mariupol came increasingly under siege from the Russian military.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his meeting in Turkey with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, did not bring any decisive progress towards ending the two weeks of fighting since Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine.

“Ukraine has not yielded, is not yielding and will not yield,” Kuleba told reporters, adding that Ukraine would demand that future talks have “the prospect of substantive discussions and a serious search for solutions.”

It was also not possible to agree on the creation of humanitarian corridors for Mariupol, which was hit by fresh air strikes on Thursday, according to the southern city’s council.

Bombs were dropped near a residential building with the Technical University near the city center also hit, the council added.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced the capture of several districts of Mariupol.

Kuleba said Lavrov was not authorized to agree to a humanitarian corridor for Mariupol or a localized ceasefire, but that his counterpart would confer “with the appropriate authorities in Russia” on the issue.

Later in the day, the Russian military announced plans to open escape corridors from Ukraine to Russia on a daily basis, suggesting Kyiv should agree to them by 3 am (0000 GMT) on Friday.

Moscow also offered to evacuate civilians from Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv to other Ukrainian territories, Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday evening said nearly 100,00 people have been evacuated from Ukrainian cities in the past few days, but Mariupol and nearby Volnovakha remained surrounded by Russian forces.

Zelensky accused Russia of shelling the escape corridor and a collection point for people fleeing Mariupol on Thursday.

The information could not be independently verified.

One major point of contention in the talks between Lavrov and Kuleba was a Wednesday attack that left three dead at a Mariupol maternity clinic, according to local officials.

Russia initially said it would launch a probe into the incident. But Lavrov echoed other officials on Thursday, saying that the attack was being framed in such a way as to make Russia look bad.

He said Russia had already informed the United Nations on Monday that medical staff were no longer present at the hospital, but that a camp had been set up there by ultra-radical fighters of the Ukrainian battalion Azov.

Zelensky said the Russian allegations about the hospital were “lies” and the UN also rejected them.

Attacks were reported on the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Izyum, Sumy and Oktyrka. The information could not be independently verified.

Ukraine also said Russian forces are still working on surrounding the capital Kyiv, with Mayor Vitali Klitschko saying hundreds of thousands had departed the city.

“Kharkiv and Chernihiv, Mariupol – we are seeing these efforts to encircle and surround [them],” a high-ranking US defense official said on Thursday.

The “same sort of efforts” had also been seen around Ukraine’s capital, with “multiple lines of advance” by Russian soldiers.

The official said the Russian armed forces had seen “approximately 5 kilometers of advance over the last 24 hours.”

At this point in time, he said it was impossible to say how long it would be before the Russians properly invade Kyiv. In places, Russian soldiers are about 15 kilometers from the city center, the official added.

Despite Russia appearing to allow some corridors, Jeffrey Prescott, the deputy US ambassador to the UN, sees an increasing risk of Russia using biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine.

False “propaganda” from Moscow has alleged Ukraine is producing weapons of mass destruction, he said, but this could be a pretext for Russia to use them itself.

“Russia made these new false claims. We’ve seen China endorsed this propaganda and so we should be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or to create a false flag operation,” he told dpa.

Later on Thursday Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the UN, said Russia has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Friday over the US’ alleged development of biological weapons in Ukraine.

According to diplomats, the emergency meeting was scheduled to take place at 10 am (1500 GMT).

“No chemical or other weapons of mass destruction are being developed in my country,” Zelensky said of the allegations. “The whole world knows that and so do you.”

The Western NATO military alliance has opted not to directly engage in the conflict due to the threat of an escalation and possible nuclear war with Russia.

The use of unprecedented and widespread sanctions on Russia, with global companies also pulling out, has been the main tool against Vladimir Putin, but the Russian president believes the measures could help make the country more independent from the rest of the world.

“The economy will undoubtedly adapt to the new situation. This will lead to an increase in our independence, self-reliance and sovereignty,” he said, according to Interfax news agency.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Kristalina Georgieva meanwhile said Russia was facing a “deep recession” in part due to “unprecedented sanctions” laid on the country.

“We are mindful that massive currency depreciation is driving inflation up. It is denting severely the purchasing power and standards of living for a vast majority of the Russian population,” Georgieva said.

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