Ukraine and Russia set to continue talks as civilians in beleaguered towns see no signs of respite

The last:

  • The Russian and Ukrainian delegations are preparing for face-to-face talks which will begin in Turkey on Tuesday.
  • The Kremlin says it is alarmed by US President Joe Biden’s comments that Russian President Vladimir Putin must not stay in power.
  • The mayor of Mariupol said buses were waiting to evacuate trapped civilians but Russia was refusing safe passage.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hints at concessions while stressing that “territorial integrity” remains Kyiv’s priority.

Ukraine and Russia were preparing for the first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks on Monday, with kyiv insisting it would make no concessions on the ceding of territory as momentum on the field of battle was evolving in his favour.

Ukrainian officials have played down the chances of a major breakthrough at the talks, which were due to start in Istanbul on Tuesday after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

But the fact that they took place in person – for the first time since an acrimonious meeting between foreign ministers on March 10 – was a sign of change behind the scenes as the Russian invasion bogged down.

On the ground, there was no sign of respite for civilians in besieged cities, especially the devastated port of Mariupol, which the mayor said 160,000 people were still trapped inside and Russia was blockading. evacuation attempts.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a destroyed Russian vehicle in the village of Mala Rogan, east of Kharkiv, after Ukrainian troops recaptured the village on Monday. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kremlin, for its part, said it was alarmed by comments by US President Joe Biden, who said in a speech on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not stay in power.

Russia and Ukraine said their delegations would arrive in Turkey on Monday, a day before talks start.

Zelensky emphasizes “territorial integrity”

Ukrainian officials have recently suggested that Russia may now be more willing to compromise, as any hope it might have had of imposing a new government on Kyiv has faded in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance and heavy casualties. Russians.

The Russian military signaled last week that it was focusing on expanding separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine, a month after committing the bulk of its huge invasion force to a failed assault on kyiv.

Ukrainian soldiers carry the coffin of 32-year-old Senior Lieutenant Pavlo Chernikov during his funeral after his death in battle at the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Lviv, Ukraine on Monday. (Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press)

When the sides last met in person, Ukraine accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of ignoring its calls to discuss a ceasefire, while Lavrov said a stopping the fighting was not even on the agenda.

Since then, they have met several times via video link, rather than face to face. The two sides have publicly discussed a formula under which Ukraine could agree to some sort of formal neutral status. But neither has budged on Russia’s territorial claims, including Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and the eastern territories known as Donbass, which Moscow is asking kyiv to give in to the separatists.

“I don’t think there will be a breakthrough on the main issues,” Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said Monday.

In an interview with Russian journalists over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hinted at some form of compromise involving the Donbass, although he did not hint that this might involve ceding the territory. In his final overnight comments, he made it clear that “territorial integrity” remained Kyiv’s priority.

Kremlin calls Biden’s remarks ‘alarming’

The Kremlin, which regularly denounces the West over Ukraine in strong terms, has so far given only a measured response to Biden’s surprise call this weekend to end the 22-year rule. years of Putin, perhaps to avoid drawing attention to it.

“For the love of God, this man can’t stay in power,” Biden said Saturday at the end of a speech to a crowd in Warsaw. Washington and NATO have stressed that eliminating Putin is not US or alliance policy, and on Sunday Biden said he was not calling for regime change.

WATCH | Odessa largely spared so far but remains vigilant:

Odessa remains unscathed, but vigilant

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Asked about Biden’s comment on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “It’s a statement that is certainly alarming.”

“We will continue to follow the US president’s statements most carefully,” Peskov told reporters. Earlier, Peskov said it was up to the Russian people to choose their leader.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm and “de-Nazify” its neighbor. kyiv and the West see this as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.

From the outset, Western countries said they believed Russia’s real goal was to quickly overthrow the government in kyiv, which Moscow failed to achieve.

Evacuation efforts frustrated

Last week, Ukrainian forces went on the offensive, pushing back Russian troops in areas around kyiv, the northeast and southwest. Russia meanwhile has kept up the pressure in the southeast near breakaway areas, including its devastating siege of Mariupol, razed to the ground as tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped inside.

Ukrainian refugees wait to be transported to the Medyka border crossing after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border into southeastern Poland on Monday. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Mayor Vadym Boichenko, who escaped the city and spoke from an undisclosed location, said 26 buses were waiting to evacuate some of the 160,000 trapped civilians, but Russia was refusing safe passage.

“The situation in the city remains difficult. People are beyond the humanitarian disaster line,” Boichenko told state television. “We must completely evacuate Mariupol.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there were no plans to open corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns on Monday, due to intelligence reports of possible Russian ‘provocations’ along the roads .

Elsewhere, Russia’s armored columns are bogged down, struggling to resupply, and making little or no progress, despite shelling residential areas.

Volunteers cover a monument to Princess Olga, Apostle Andrew, Cyril and Methodius with sandbags for protection as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in central Kyiv, in Ukraine on Sunday. (Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

“As of today, the enemy is regrouping its forces, but they cannot advance anywhere in Ukraine,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Monday.

The UK MoD also said there had been no major changes in Russia’s positions in the past 24 hours, with most Russian gains near Mariupol and heavy fighting taking place there. .

The Ukrainian General Staff said the Kyiv Defense Forces were holding back Russian troops trying to break through from the northeast and northwest and take control of key roads and settlements.

In the south, Ukrainian forces concentrated on defending the towns of Krivy Rih, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolayiv.