Russia-Ukraine talks yield no progress
Russia’s war in Ukraine entered the third week on Thursday with none of its stated objectives reached, despite thousands of people killed, more than two million made refugees and thousands cowering in besieged cities under relentless bombardment, Reuters reported.
The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met on Thursday in Turkey, the highest-level contact between the two countries since the war began on Feb. 24, but in simultaneous duelling news conferences made clear they had made no progress.
Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba said he had secured no promise from Russia’s Sergei Lavrov to halt firing so aid could reach civilians, including Kyiv’s main humanitarian priority – evacuating hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the besieged port of Mariupol.
Lavrov showed no sign of making any concessions, repeating Russian demands that Ukraine be disarmed and accept neutral status. He said Kyiv appeared to want meetings for the sake of meetings, and blamed the West for intensifying the conflict by arming its neighbour.
The city council of Mariupol said the port had come under fresh air strikes on Thursday morning and Ukraine said Russia committed “genocide” by bombing a maternity hospital there on Wednesday. Lavrov said the building was no longer used as a hospital and had been occupied by Ukrainian forces.
“What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternity hospitals, and destroys them?” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address late on Wednesday, after posting footage of the wreckage, showing massive damage to the building.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine would try to open seven humanitarian corridors on Thursday, including another attempt to reach Mariupol. Daily missions to rescue civilians there have failed since Saturday.
Moscow’s stated objectives of crushing Ukraine’s military and removing its leaders remained out of reach, with Zelenskiy unshaken and Western military aid pouring across the Polish and Romanian borders.
Russian forces have advanced in the south but have yet to capture a single city in the north or east. Western countries have said they believe a planned lightning strike on Kyiv failed in the early days of the war, and Moscow has instead turned to tactics that involve far more destructive assaults.
The UK Defence Ministry said on Thursday that a large Russian column northwest of Kyiv had made little progress in over a week and was suffering continued losses. It added that as casualties mount, Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to draw from across the armed forces to replace the losses.
Putin has said the advance by his forces in Ukraine was going according to plan and to schedule. Russia calls its incursion a “special operation” to disarm its neighbour and dislodge leaders it calls “neo-Nazis”.
Western-led sanctions designed to cut the Russian economy and government from international financial markets have bit hard, with the rouble plunging and ordinary Russians rushing to hoard cash.
In the latest Western sanctions move, Britain added several Russian businessmen to its blacklist, including Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea soccer team. The sanctions would block the sale of the club but a special license would let it keep playing and paying salaries.
Ukrainian officials said Russian aircraft bombed the children’s hospital on Wednesday, injuring pregnant women and burying patients in rubble despite a ceasefire deal for people to flee Mariupol. The regional governor said 17 people were wounded.
The attack underscored U.S. warnings that the biggest assault on a European state since 1945 could become increasingly attritional after Russia’s early failures.
The U.N. Human Rights body said it was trying to verify the number of casualties. The incident “adds to our deep concerns about indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas,” it added through a spokesperson.
The White House condemned the hospital bombing as a “barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians”.
“That’s how fake news is born,” Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Twitter.
Russia had earlier pledged to halt firing so at least some trapped civilians could escape Mariupol. Both sides blamed the other for the failure of the evacuation.
Half of the more than 2 million total refugees from Ukraine are children. The International Committee of the Red Cross said houses had been destroyed all across Ukraine. “Hundreds of thousands of people have no food, no water, no heat, no electricity and no medical care,” it said.
Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said Ukraine was seeking a ceasefire, liberation of its territories and to resolve all humanitarian issues.
Moscow demands that Kyiv cease fighting, amend its constitution to proclaim neutrality, drop aspirations of joining the NATO alliance and recognise Russia’s rule in Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.
Zelenskiy repeated his call for the West to tighten sanctions on Russia “so that they sit down at the negotiating table and end this brutal war”.
He told VICE in an interview on Wednesday he was confident Putin would at some stage agree to talks. “I think he will. I think he sees that we are strong. He will. We need some time,” he said.
Ukraine’s gas transit company said Russian forces were occupying gas pumping stations threatening shipments to Europe.
Russia has been hit by Western sanctions and the withdrawals of foreign firms, the latest including Nestle, cigarette maker Philip Morris and Sony.
Rio Tinto (RIO.L), (RIO.AX) on Thursday became the first major mining company to announce it was cutting all ties with Russian businesses.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to rush $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine, sending the legislation to the Senate.