Russia to reduce attacks after 'meaningful' talks with Ukraine

1. Russia
A worker watches an excavator clearing the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv on March 29, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Russia said it would scale down fighting around two Ukrainian cities following "meaningful" talks with Ukraine on Tuesday, as officials raised the prospect of a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents.اضافة اعلان

The outcome of the face-to-face talks at a palace in Istanbul raised hopes around the world after more than a month of conflict that has left thousands dead and forced millions from their homes.

On the ground, Ukraine said seven people were killed by a Russian strike on a regional government building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

But Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said there were now "sufficient" conditions for talks between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Arakhamia also called for "an international mechanism of security guarantees where guarantor countries will act in a similar way to NATO's article number five — and even more firmly".

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin meanwhile said there had been progress in talks on "the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine".

Therefore "a decision has been made to radically, by several times reduce the military activity" around the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernigiv, he said.

Russia's chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky also said there had been "meaningful discussion" and raised the prospect of a Putin-Zelensky meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the talks the "most significant progress" since Russia's invasion began on February 24.

US President Joe Biden discussed the "latest developments" with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in a call that lasted just under an hour.

Seven killed in Mykolaiv strike

Following Tuesday's announcements, European stock markets lifted and oil prices fell by five percent as supply fears eased while the ruble surged 10 percent against the dollar.

Adding to a toll estimated by Zelensky at 20,000 so far, Ukraine said seven people were killed by the Russian strike in Mykolaiv.

"I was having breakfast in my apartment," Donald, 69, a retired Canadian postal worker with Ukrainian residency told AFP. "I heard a whoosh, then a boom and my windows rattled".

Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian forces from around the city in recent days and have recaptured territory in other parts of the country, including in the suburban town of Irpin outside Kyiv — an important gateway to the capital.

Ukraine has also resumed evacuations from areas in the south of the country occupied by Russian forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had opened the talks at the sprawling Dolmabahce palace, recognizing "legitimate concerns" on both sides but urging them to "put an end to this tragedy".

Russian oligarch and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who has been hit by Western sanctions, was also in attendance.

The Kremlin said he was acting as an intermediary and denied reports that he had been poisoned during a previous round of negotiations in Ukraine.

"This is part of information sabotage, part of an information war," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

'Crime against humanity'

In response to the invasion, the West has imposed crushing economic sanctions and several Western companies have pulled out of Russia.

There have also been several rounds of diplomatic expulsions, including the latest on Tuesday when the Netherlands said it was kicking out 17 Russian diplomats for alleged intelligence activity.

Russia has hit back against Western sanctions, saying that its gas deliveries to the EU must now be paid for in rubles.

"Nobody will supply gas for free. This is just impossible. And it can only be paid in rubles," Peskov told reporters.

Russia also said it was expelling 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in a tit-for-tat move after the Baltic countries expelled Russian diplomats over the conflict.

While Ukraine's forces are counterattacking in the north, they are struggling to retain control of the southern port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces have encircled the city and have embarked on a steady and indiscriminate bombardment, trapping an estimated 160,000 people with little food, water, or medicine.

At least 5,000 people have already died, according to one senior Ukrainian official who estimated the real toll may be closer to 10,000 when all the bodies are collected.

Zelensky said the Russian siege constituted a "crime against humanity, which is happening in front of the eyes of the whole planet in real time".

UN nuclear visit

Ukraine's foreign ministry called the situation "catastrophic," saying Russia's assault from land, sea, and air had turned a city once home to 450,000 people "into dust".
France, Greece, and Turkey are hoping to launch a mass evacuation of civilians from Mariupol within days, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking agreement from Putin.

Western powers say they have seen evidence of war crimes, which are already being investigated by the International Criminal Court.

On Monday, Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said there was proof that Russian forces have used banned cluster bombs in the southern Odessa and Kherson areas.

Biden has expressed his "moral outrage" at the conduct of the war, and ruffled feathers over the weekend by suggesting Putin "cannot remain in power".

He has since denied seeking regime change and swatted away concern that his remarks would ratchet up tensions with Putin. 

"I don't care what he thinks," Biden said on Monday.

The conflict has also raised fears over nuclear safety after Russia seized several facilities, including Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The chief of the UN atomic watchdog, Rafael Grossi, was visiting Ukraine on Tuesday.

"We must act now to help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident," he said on Twitter.

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