Russia-Ukraine talks to continue despite deadly strikes

By: AFP
Published: 11:48 PM, 14 Mar, 2022
Russia-Ukraine talks to continue despite deadly strikes
Caption: Russia-Ukraine talks to continue despite deadly strikes.
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Russia and Ukraine conducted fresh talks on Monday in an effort to end Moscow's devastating war, despite deadly strikes on a Ukrainian television tower, the capital and a pro-Moscow separatist region.

On the 19th day of the invasion, the fourth round of talks made no breakthrough other than a planned resumption Tuesday, as Russian-backed separatists said fragments from a shot-down Ukrainian Tochka-U missile ripped the centre of Donetsk, killing 23 people.

Moscow called it a "war crime" and rebels published photos of bloody corpses strewn in the street, even as the Ukrainian army denied having fired a missile at Donetsk.

The United Nations estimates almost 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale land and air assault on February 24, most of them to Poland, struggling to provide for the arrivals.

Outside the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, nine people died and another nine were injured on Monday when Russian forces hit a television tower, local authorities said.

Rescuers were working to free survivors trapped under the rubble in the village of Antopil, the head of the regional administration, Vitaliy Koval, said on messaging app Telegram.

As Moscow's military advanced steadily towards several major urban hubs, Russian air strikes killed at least two in Kyiv, now hemmed in on two sides and drained of more than half of its three million residents.

"They say that he is too severely burned, that I won't recognise him," sobbed Lidiya Tikhovska, 83, staring at the spot where a paramedic said the remains of her son Vitaliy lay. 

"I wish Russia the same grief I feel now," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks as she clung to her grandson's elbow for support.

During its meeting with Russian representatives, Ukraine said it was demanding "peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops". The videoconference talks paused without a breakthrough ahead of a planned resumption on Tuesday.

World War III

"Only after this can we talk about regional relations and about political differences," Kyiv's lead negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said in a video statement posted to Twitter.

Russian troops not only edged closer to Kyiv but kept up their siege of the southern port city of Mariupol, where officials said nearly 2,200 people have been killed.

At Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, energy operator Ukrenergo said "occupying forces" had once again damaged its electricity supply.

Russia's forces had earlier focused on eastern and southern areas of Ukraine -- home to more ethnic Russians -- but in recent days have moved to the country's centre.

In Kyiv, only the roads to the south remain open, according to the Ukrainian presidency. City authorities have set up checkpoints, and people are stockpiling food and medicine.

The north-western suburb of Bucha is held by Russian forces, along with parts of Irpin, Ukrainian soldiers told AFP. Some blocks in the once well-to-do suburb have been reduced to rubble.

The Russians are encountering resistance from the Ukrainian army to both the east and west of the capital, according to AFP journalists on the scene.

Talks between Kyiv and Moscow have yet to yield a ceasefire and Russian forces have shown no sign of easing their onslaught.

The aim was "to do everything to ensure a meeting of presidents. A meeting that I am sure people are waiting for," said President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"We see significant progress," Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia's negotiating team, told state-run television network RT Sunday.

World War III 

In an attack dangerously close to NATO member Poland, Russian air strikes on a Ukrainian military training ground near the border killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 130 on Sunday.

Zelensky has urged NATO to impose a no-fly zone, but the United States has ruled out any direct intervention, with President Joe Biden warning that NATO fighting Russia "is World War III".

"If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory, on NATO territory, on the homes of NATO citizens," repeated Zelensky, who is to deliver a virtual address to the US Congress on Wednesday.

Washington and its EU allies have sent funds and military aid to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia.

Russia's finance ministry accused foreign countries of wanting to force Russia into an "artificial default" and said it would meet its debt obligations.

In a sign Moscow may have underestimated the challenge it would face, US officials told media that Russia had asked China for military and economic aid for the war.

US diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Putin reportedly asking for military help could be a "defining moment" for China's Xi Jinping.

Beijing accused Washington of spreading lies over China's role in the Ukraine war, without directly addressing the US media reports.

The latest fighting in Kyiv's suburbs left a US journalist dead -- the first foreign reporter killed in Ukraine since the invasion began.

In an intelligence update on Sunday, Britain's defence ministry said Russia had established a naval blockade on the Black Sea coast, "effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade".

Evacuation route 

Russian naval forces are conducting missile strikes against targets throughout Ukraine, it said.

Meanwhile, efforts continued to get help to the devastated southern city of Mariupol, which aid agencies say is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

In a glimmer of hope for residents of the besieged city, more than 160 civilian cars were able to drive out along a humanitarian evacuation route on Monday.

The successful evacuation followed several failed attempts since Russian forces surrounded the port city on the Azov Sea early this month.

Heavy bombardment has left some 400,000 inhabitants in the city with no running water or heating and food running short.

Zelensky has accused Moscow of both blocking and attacking humanitarian convoys, although he said Sunday that another 125,000 people had been evacuated that way across Ukraine.

Zelensky says the Russians have lost about 12,000 troops -- although Moscow put the number at 498, in its only toll released March 2.

About 1,300 Ukrainian troops have been killed, according to Kyiv.

And in Russia, Instagram was no longer accessible Monday after Moscow accused its parent company Meta of allowing calls for violence against Russians on its platforms.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.