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Ukraine’s Kuleba notes no progress after talks with Russia’s Lavrov

The top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine indicated they were willing to conduct further talks after an inconclusive meeting on Thursday, their first since Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago.

Antalya, 10 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, their first since Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, did not bring any decisive progress towards ending the fighting. Nor was it possible to agree on the creation of humanitarian corridors for the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Kuleba said Lavrov was not authorized to agree to any humanitarian corridor, but that he would confer “with the appropriate authorities in Russia.” There were also discussions about a 24-hour ceasefire to help alleviate the plight of civilians trapped in the war zone.

“We didn’t make any progress on these questions because, it appears, these decisions are made by others in Russia,” said Kuleba. “Ukraine has not yielded, is not yielding and will not yield.”

The question then becomes whether the two will meet again and whether such a meeting will bring forth any results.

“We support multiple contacts. But contacts have to bring some added value,” said Lavrov. Kuleba said Ukraine would demand that any talks have “the prospect of substantive discussions and a serious search for solutions.”

Lavrov also mooted the idea of a possible meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but said such a meeting would require preparation.

Highlighting the possible chasms that will keep the two from reaching an agreement, Lavrov argued that Russia did not invade Ukraine, but was responding to a perceived threat to its security.

Kuleba noted that the talks were simultaneously easy and difficult. “Easy, because Minister Lavrov mostly stuck to his traditional narrative about Ukraine. Difficult, because I gave my best to at least look for a diplomatic solution to this human tragedy that is happening before our eyes in the battlefields of besieged cities.”

The two met in Antalya, Turkey. It is not clear where a further meeting would take place, should one happen. This time they met for one and a half hours. But locales for talks are growing slim, after Russia announced it would no longer be cooperating with the Council of Europe, a body in which both are members. It had previously been suspended, due to the attack.

However, in one glimmer of hope on that front, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said he hopes to speak with Putin by phone on Friday.

One point of contention was a Wednesday attack that left three dead in a Mariupol maternity clinic, according to Ukrainian officials.

Zelensky released a video on Twitter showing the wreckage, noting that the hospital must have sustained multiple direct hits.

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.

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

He spoke of “manipulation” of the entire world with information on alleged atrocities by the Russian army. He also accused the US of operating bioweapons facilities in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army said early on Thursday it was slowing down and holding back the Russian offensive. The Ukrainian general staff said in a bulletin that in some operational areas, Russian units had lost their fighting strength and were bringing in reserves.

Russian forces were still working on surrounding Kiev and were also beefing up their units around Mykolaiv in Ukraine’s south.

Attacks were also reported from the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Izyum, as well as from Sumy and Oktyrka in north-eastern Ukraine. Local officials reported Russian shelling from several cities.

Russian planes bombed the area around the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, head of Sumy’s regional administration, wrote on Telegram.

Residential areas were also shelled in the town of Okhtyrka south of Sumy. Zhyvytskyi said there were reports that a gas line had also been hit there.

The mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv also reported multiple rocket launchers firing from the north.

“Either they are testing the robustness of our checkpoints, or they are preparing for an offensive,” Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych said on Facebook.

The information could not be independently verified.

Amid plans to evacuate multiple urban areas, Ukrainian authorities plan to open up three escape corridors from Sumy region in north-eastern Ukraine on Thursday, according to Zhyvytskyi.

The corridors are to lead people to safety in Poltava in central Ukraine, about 170 kilometres south of Sumy, Zhyvytskyi wrote on Telegram. He said a ceasefire was planned at 0700 GMT.

Russian forces have surrounded Sumy, Britain’s Ministry of Defence says.

Zhyvytskyi said that nearly 50,000 people left Sumy on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amid the fighting, Ukrainian media reported that a new law, which actually went into effect on Monday, means civilians in Ukraine are allowed to open fire on troops identifiable as hostile forces.

The Kremlin criticized the permission now granted. “If someone with a weapon in his hand attacks a Russian soldier, then he also becomes a target,” it said.

Amid the fighting, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, appealed to officials there for military and humanitarian assistance. But Western allies are having a hard time finding ways to move aid to Ukraine without risking NATO involvement in the war, which could quickly become a much more widespread conflagration.

Thus, a Polish plan to shift MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine appears dead in the water after US objections, despite Ukrainian pleas.

The war – which was started after Russia insisted separatists in eastern Ukraine were being subject to genocide, a claim largely derided in the West – continues to have broad, knock-on effects, with refugee flows hitting Europe and much of the continent wondering if the war will spread.

For example, Sweden, which is not part of NATO, proposed on Thursday that it sharply increase its defence spending, to 2% of gross domestic product.

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