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War in Ukraine | End of Russian-Ukrainian talks, a “second round” planned

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(Kiev) The Russian and Ukrainian delegations left the negotiating table and returned for “consultations in their respective capitals”, after agreeing to want a “second round” of talks, the two parties announced on Monday.

“The parties have established a series of priorities and themes which require certain decisions” before a second round of talks, declared Mikhaïlo Podoliak, one of the Ukrainian negotiators. According to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Medinski, the new meeting would take place “soon” on the Polish-Belarusian border.

These first negotiations, which began around 6 a.m. EST, come on the fifth day of the Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is currently facing strong resistance from the Ukrainian army and Western economic sanctions on an unprecedented scale.

According to the Ukrainian presidency, Kiev intended to ask during the discussions – organized in a residence of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border – “an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of (Russian) troops from Ukrainian territory”.

President Zelensky, who is not taking part in the negotiations, the Ukrainian delegation being led by Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov, called on the Russian soldiers to “lay down their arms”.

He also asked the European Union for the “immediate” integration of Ukraine. “I’m sure it’s possible,” he said.

European Council President Charles Michel, however, stressed that there were “different opinions” on Ukraine’s membership among the Twenty-Seven, seeming to rule out any quick decision.

The head of the Russian delegation, Kremlin adviser Vladimir Medinsky, hoped to “find an agreement” with Kiev “in the interests of both parties”, without revealing what he intended to put on the table.

The Belarusian state news agency Belta broadcast images of the negotiations, around a long table covered with a white tablecloth, and the flags of the three countries in the background.

Belarus, where large Russian forces are stationed, is one of Moscow’s main allies. Its very authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, had amendments to the Constitution ratified by referendum on Sunday, opening the door to the nuclearization of the country – and to the reception of Russian nuclear weapons on its territory.

Spare the Civilians

The talks started against a backdrop of fighting for the country’s second city, Kharkiv (1.4 million inhabitants), close to the Russian border.

At least eleven people were killed in Russian bombings of residential neighborhoods, according to the regional governor, who said he feared “dozens of deaths”.

He called the offensive a “genocide of the Ukrainian people”, while the Kremlin spokesman assured that the Russian army was trying to “ensure the safety of civilians. »

French President Emmanuel Macron, President-in-Office of the EU, indicated, after an exchange with Vladimir Putin, that the Russian President had “confirmed his desire” to avoid strikes against civilians and roads.

But Mr. Putin for his part reiterated a list of requirements for any settlement of the conflict, including the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and a “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine.

In the capital Kiev, the situation seemed calmer on Monday after a weekend under curfew. But many were preparing for a new Russian assault.

The city bristled with makeshift barricades and public electronic signs warned the Russians that they would be greeted “by bullets.”

The Russian army said that civilians could leave Kiev “freely” and accused the Ukrainian authorities of using them as “human shields”, raising the specter of a major attack.

In the absence so far of a major victory for the Russian army, Vladimir Putin had reached a new milestone on Sunday in threatening to widen the conflict, which many fear will become the most serious in Europe since 1945. declared on Sunday that it had put its nuclear forces on a “special state of alert” in the face of “belligerent declarations by NATO” and “illegitimate” sanctions imposed on Russia.

Economic sanctions

Over the weekend, the Europeans tightened their economic sanctions against Russia. They excluded several Russian banks from the Swift international interbank system, and prohibited any transaction with the Central Bank of Russia.

The United States announced a similar measure on Monday, so the Central Bank is expected to have all of its assets frozen in the EU and the United States.

The sanctions are beginning to weigh: the European Central Bank has noted the “bankruptcy or probable bankruptcy” of the European subsidiary of the first Russian bank, Sberbank.

To defend the economy and the ruble, which fell to historic lows against the euro and the dollar on Monday, the Russian Central Bank announced that it would raise its key rate by 10.5 points to 20%.

Mr. Putin was focusing Monday morning on these economic problems, according to his spokesman. “The sanctions are heavy, they are problematic […] but Russia has all the necessary capabilities to compensate for the damage,” said Dmitry Peskov.

But Muscovites are worried about their savings.

Natalia Prochina, 75, told AFP she was ready to withdraw all her savings from the major VTB bank “so as not to lose all her fortune again”, as she had during the Russian financial crisis of 1998.

And oligarch Oleg Deripaska, founder of aluminum giant Rusal, called for “a change in economic policy and an end to all this state capitalism,” in a rare criticism of the Kremlin.

The Europeans have also closed their airspace to Russian companies. Russia responded by closing its doors to airlines from 36 countries.

Global markets across the board plunged again on Monday on fears the conflict could fuel soaring energy prices and renewed inflation.

If the European countries are for the most part members of the Atlantic Alliance – which announced that it would not send troops to Ukraine – they announced on Sunday unprecedented measures of military support for Kiev: release of 450 million euros to finance arms deliveries and the dispatch of combat aircraft.

US President Joe Biden will meet again with his allies at 11:15 a.m. to “coordinate” a “united response” to the Russian attack, the White House announced.

Emmanuel Macron will participate in this videoconference and then have a dinner with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

500,000 refugees

The conflict has thrown ever-increasing numbers of refugees onto the roads.

Since the start of the invasion on Thursday, more than 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Monday. The EU said it expected more than seven million displaced people.

A majority go to Poland. But Romania, Slovakia and Hungary – all NATO members – are also affected.

Despite his anti-migrant stances, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban relaxed asylum rules and Hungarians flocked to the Ukrainian border to offer bowls of goulash, offers of accommodation and comfort.

Long lines of cars wait at the border crossing points with Poland.

From Russia, the departures of Westerners should also accelerate. The United States recommended Monday to their nationals to leave the country immediately, after Italy and Belgium.

The outcome of five days of conflict remains uncertain.

The UN said on Monday it recorded 102 civilians killed and 304 injured, but warned the actual figures were “significantly” higher.

Ukraine reported on Monday 352 civilians killed and 2,040 injured since Thursday. She claims that several thousand Russian soldiers perished.

The Russians did not give any figures.

The 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly began a rare “emergency special session” in New York on the conflict with a minute of silence for the victims of the Russian invasion.

France was to submit a resolution on humanitarian aid to Ukraine to the Security Council. Russia has a right of veto there which excludes any formal condemnation of the offensive.

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