Russia says it will reduce operations near Ukrainian capital after ceasefire talks

Updated 5 hours ago

RUSSIA has pledged to reduce fighting around two Ukrainian cities, including kyiv, following peace talks, but the United States has led a chorus of shrill skepticism over Moscow’s intentions.

Talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul have raised hopes after more than a month of war that has claimed thousands of lives, and prompted negotiators to suggest a meeting between the two presidents.

On the ground, however, the violence is still having a devastating impact, as Ukraine said at least nine people were killed and 28 injured today by a Russian airstrike on a government building in the southern city of Mykolaiv .

Following talks in Turkey, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said there were ‘sufficient’ conditions for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet in a bid to end Europe’s worst conflict since decades.

Zelenskyy said today he saw “positive” signals in the peace talks held today, but promised that kyiv would not “reduce our defense efforts”.

“We can say that the signals we are hearing from the negotiations are positive, but these signals do not cover Russian explosions or shells,” Zelenskyy said in a video address tonight.

Zelenskyy also expressed skepticism about Moscow’s stated plan for a military reduction, saying, “We will not decrease our defense efforts.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said progress had been made in talks on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine”.

“A decision has been taken to drastically, repeatedly reduce military activity” around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv, he said.

Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said there had been “meaningful discussion” during the talks.

But the United States immediately questioned Moscow’s words, and Western leaders vowed to continue “raising the costs” of its invasion by Russia.

Ukrainian servicemen stand in trenches north of the capital kyiv, Ukraine.

Source: Vadim Ghirda/AP

Offensive planned elsewhere?

US officials have said that while a small number of Russian forces withdrew from Kyiv, the vast majority of its positions remained.

“We are not prepared to call this a retreat or even a withdrawal,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“We should all be ready to watch a major offensive against other parts of Ukraine… This does not mean that the threat against Kyiv is over.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined in the mistrust, saying: “We will judge Putin and his regime by his actions, not his words.”

US President Joe Biden has meanwhile spoken to Johnson and leaders of France, Germany and Italy as they seek to harden their unified stance against Moscow.

“The leaders affirmed their determination to continue to increase the costs to Russia for its brutal attacks in Ukraine as well as to continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance,” the White House said in a reading. of the call.

Following today’s announcements, European and US stock markets rallied and oil prices fell 5% as supply fears eased, while the ruble jumped 10% from to the dollar.

Hours earlier, a Russian strike on the regional government headquarters in Mykolaiv left nine people dead, officials said, adding to a toll estimated by Zelenskyy at 20,000 so far.

Ukrainian fighters have pushed Russian forces out of the city in recent days and retaken territory in other parts of the country, including the suburban town of Irpin outside Kyiv – an important gateway to the capital.


Source: PA Images

“Crime against humanity”

In response to the invasion, the West imposed crushing economic sanctions and many businesses left Russia.

There have also been several rounds of diplomatic expulsions, which continued today with Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands announcing that a total of 42 diplomats would be expelled.

Russia has hit back at Western sanctions, saying its gas deliveries to the European Union must now be paid for in roubles.

“No one will provide gas for free. It’s just not possible. And it can only be paid in rubles,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia also said it was expelling 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a tit-for-tat move.

As Ukrainian forces counterattack in the north, they struggle to maintain control of the devastated port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces have surrounded the city and are carrying out regular, indiscriminate bombardments, trapping around 160,000 people with little food, water or medicine.

At least 5,000 people have already died there, according to a senior Ukrainian official who estimated the true toll could be closer to 10,000.

Zelenskyy said the Russian siege was a “crime against humanity, unfolding before the eyes of the whole planet in real time.”

Opening the Russian-Ukrainian talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged delegations to “put an end to this tragedy”.

Russian oligarch and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, who has been hit by Western sanctions, was also present.

The Kremlin said he was acting as an intermediary and denied reports that he was poisoned during previous talks in Ukraine.

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A local resident rides his bicycle past damaged buildings and a tank in the town of Trostsyanets, about 400 km east of the capital Kyiv

Source: AP/PA images

UN nuclear visit

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has called Mariupol’s situation “catastrophic”, saying Russia’s assault from land, sea and air has turned a city that was once home to 450,000 people “to dust”.

France, Greece and Turkey hope to launch a mass evacuation of civilians from Mariupol within days, according to Macron.

But the French president, after speaking with Putin today, said the conditions for such an operation were not yet in place.

Biden has expressed “moral outrage” at the conduct of the war, and recently ruffled feathers by suggesting Putin could not stay in power. He has since denied wanting regime change in Russia as US policy.

The conflict sparked nuclear security fears after Russia seized several facilities, including Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s atomic watchdog, was visiting Ukraine today.

“We must act now to help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Twitter.

© AFP 2022

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