Ukraine and Russia preparing for face-to-face peace talks

Ukraine and Russia preparing for face-to-face peace talks

Ukraine and Russia were preparing on Monday for the first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks, but a senior US official said Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to make compromises to end the war.

Ukrainian officials also played down the chances of a major breakthrough at the talks, due to be held in Istanbul after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

But the fact that they were taking place in person at all – for the first time since an acrimonious meeting between foreign ministers on March 10 – was a sign of shifts behind the scenes as Russia’s invasion has become bogged down.

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

But the mayor of Irpin, near Kyiv, said Ukrainian forces had seized back full control of the town.
“We have good news today – Irpin has been liberated,” Oleksandr Markushyn said, adding that it expected further attacks and would defend itself. Reuters could not immediately verify the information.

The Kremlin, for its part, said it was alarmed by US President Joe Biden’s comment during a speech on Saturday that Putin must not remain in power.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city and one of its hardest hit, people were sweeping rubble out of a classroom on the third storey of a school, where a wall had been blown out by a missile before dawn.

“This is a civilian target. It’s a school!” said Oleksandr, who had been sheltering with his mother on a lower floor of the school after their own neighbourhood was hit. “They’ve not been able to take the city, so they’ve decided to destroy it.”

Talks 

Russia and Ukraine said their delegations would arrive in Turkey on Monday, with the talks due to start on Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials have recently suggested Russia could be more willing to compromise having seen stiff Ukrainian resistance and heavy Russian losses.

But a senior US State Department official said Putin did not give that impression. “Everything I have seen is he is not willing to compromise at this point,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity after Ukraine’s president sketched out a potential way to end the crisis over the weekend.

Russia’s military signalled last week it would concentrate on expanding territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine, a month after having committed the bulk of its huge invasion force to a failed assault on Kyiv.

But Ukraine said it saw no sign Russia had given up a plan to surround the capital, where the mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 100 people had been killed, including 4 children, and 82 multi-storey buildings had been destroyed. It was not possible to verify the figures.

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

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