New talks begin on Tuesday in Istanbul to try to end the war in Ukraine, while Kiev claims to resist Russian attacks on major cities and even to have regained territory.
Russian negotiators arrived in Istanbul on Monday, where a previous negotiation meeting had already taken place on March 10 at Foreign Minister level but had not led to progress. The discussions then continued at video conference.
One of the key points in the negotiations concerns “security guarantees and neutrality, our state’s nuclear-weapon-free status,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Russian media on Sunday. This point “is being investigated in depth”, but it will require a referendum and security guarantees, he warned, accusing his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and his entourage of “dragging on”.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dampened expectations on Monday, stressing the lack of “significant progress” in the negotiations so far.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba later indicated on his ministry’s website that Volodymyr Zelensky had “given very clear instructions to our delegation. We are not dealing with people, territory or sovereignty”. and the ultimate goal is to achieve a stable ceasefire.
The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, estimated that a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, as the latter called for, would be “counterproductive” for the time being.
The conflict has already forced nearly 3.9 million Ukrainians to flee their country, according to the UN, which in turn will seek a “humanitarian ceasefire”.
Ukrainian authorities announced Monday night that Irpin, the scene of violent fighting on the outskirts of Kiev, had been “liberated” from Russian forces.
“The occupiers have been pushed back from Irpin, pushed back from Kiev. However, it is too early to talk about security in this part of our region. The fighting continues. Russian troops control the northern Kyiv region, have the resources and manpower,” said Volodymyr Zelensky. in a video late Monday.In the regions of Chernigiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Donbass and in southern Ukraine, “the situation remains tense everywhere, very difficult”, he stressed.
The Ukrainian General Staff said earlier Tuesday night that its troops had “blocked the enemy’s advance in the Chernigiv region”. “The enemy is weakened, disoriented, most of them no longer have logistical support and are cut off from the majority of the troops,” he remarked about the situation of the Russian army in general.
Other fighting took place in several locations around the capital. “The enemy is trying to break through around Kiev and block the roads,” said Ganna Malyar, deputy defense minister, stressing that “the defense of Kiev” continued.
Fierce fighting also took place in the east, especially around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, close to the Russian border. In this region, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group are stationed, the British Ministry of Defense said on Monday, estimating that more than a thousand of these men could be brought into combat in the country.
Ukrainian soldiers also regained control of Mala Rogan, a small village about four kilometers east of Kharkiv, AFP noted, which saw two bodies of Russian soldiers lying in an alley and several Russian armored vehicles destroyed. In the south, the Russian loop also seemed to loosen around certain cities, such as Mykolaiv, a locked city on the way to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port.
The front has even retreated significantly with a Ukrainian counter-offensive on Kherson, about 80 km to the southeast, the only major city that the Russian army has claimed to have occupied completely since its invasion on 24 February.
Not far away, on the northern part of the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, the military official from the city of Kryvyi Rih on Tuesday night confirmed that Russian forces had been “pushed 40-60 km back from the city”.
The Ukrainian authorities claimed to have “evidence” of Russian forces’ use of cluster munitions – weapons banned under international conventions – in the Odessa and Kherson regions of the south.
Blockade of Mariupol
On Sunday, Volodymyr Zelensky condemned a total blockade of the city of Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, which the Russian army has been trying to conquer since the end of February. About 160,000 people are still stuck there, according to Mayor Vadim Boïtchenko.
According to Tetyana Lomakina, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, “about 5,000 people have been buried (in Mariupol, editor’s note), but people have not been buried for ten days due to the continuous bombings”. She estimated that there could actually be “about 10,000 dead”.
“All entrances and exits from the city are blocked (…), it is impossible to bring food and medicine into Mariupol”, confirmed the Ukrainian president and accused the Russian forces of bombing convoys with humanitarian aid.
A sentiment shared by NGO Amnesty International: “We are in deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure, home”, bombings of schools, NGO Secretary-General Agnès Callamard told AFP on Tuesday, accusing Russia of allowing humanitarian corridors to turn them into a “death trap”.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “rehearsal” of Syria with a “multiplication of war crimes”, the NGO warned during the presentation on Tuesday in Johannesburg of its 2021-2022 report.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin continues to try to control the narrative of events. According to Sergey Lavrov, a decree is being drafted to restrict access to Russian territory for nationals of countries that have committed “unfriendly” acts against Russia, which has been subject to a host of sanctions since the start of its offensive.
The Russian power passed several laws after its offensive, which provided severe penalties that could go up to fifteen years in prison, for disseminating what the authorities consider to be “false information” about the army.
The mere use of the word “war” by the media or individuals to describe the intervention in Ukraine can be prosecuted, with the Kremlin and its media using the term “special military operation”. And Vladimir Poutine on Friday night promulgated a law that, in the same vein, suppresses the false information about Moscow’s action abroad.