High-level talks between Russia and Ukraine have ended in Turkey with no progress toward ending the bloody war that is now in its third week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba met Thursday in the city of Antalya in the highest-level discussions between Moscow and Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Afterward, Mr. Kuleba told reporters he saw no sign that Russia was ready to end its attack, which has killed thousands of people and caused more than 2.2 million Ukrainians to flee the country.
“Russia is not in a position at this point to establish a ceasefire. They seek a surrender from Ukraine. This is not what they are going to get. Ukraine is strong, Ukraine is fighting,” Mr. Kuleba said after the meeting.
He said the main message Mr. Lavrov had delivered to him was “they will continue their aggression until Ukraine meets their demands.”
Russia, which says it was threatened by Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, has said it intends to demilitarize its smaller neighbour. The Kremlin also claims it is acting to remove “neo-Nazis” inside the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.
The Russian assault, which many analysts had predicted would result in the swift capture of Kyiv, has become bogged down amid reports of heavy losses and logistical problems.
Mr. Kuleba said Mr. Lavrov had ignored Ukraine’s plea for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where at least 1,170 people have reportedly been killed since the start of the war. A Russian airstrike badly damaged a maternity hospital in the city Wednesday.
“I made a simple proposal to Minister Lavrov: I can call my Ukrainian ministers, authorities, President now and give you 100-per-cent assurances on security guarantees for humanitarian corridors,” he said. “I asked him, ‘Can you do the same?’ And he did not respond.”
Ukraine said Thursday that an aid convoy attempting to reach Mariupol had been forced to turn back because of ongoing Russian fire.
In a separate news conference in Antalya, Mr. Lavrov said the maternity hospital was no longer providing patient care and had been used as a base for far-right Ukrainian fighters before the attack. Photographs taken immediately after the blast show heavily pregnant women among the 17 people wounded when the airstrike hit the hospital’s parking lot, blowing off part of the building’s outer wall. Mariupol authorities said Thursday that three people had been killed in the attack, including a child.
Mr. Lavrov said the talks in Turkey could not be a substitute for the main negotiations, which are being held in Belarus, a close Russian ally that has supported the war against Ukraine. Three rounds of talks in Belarus have produced a series of localized ceasefires that collapsed almost immediately when Russian forces continued their attacks.
Mr. Lavrov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was open to meeting with Mr. Zelensky under specific circumstances. “Putin never avoids contacts. We just don’t want these contacts to happen just for words.”
Images of the Antalya meeting showed the Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish delegations sitting on three sides of a U-shaped table. It was unclear whether Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kuleba had shaken hands at any point during the negotiations.
Mr. Lavrov accused the West of fuelling the conflict by sending weapons to Ukraine. He said the war – which Russia calls a “special military operation” – would have been avoided if the West had given Russia guarantees that NATO would never accept Ukraine as a member.
Moscow has been hit with a series of harsh sanctions since Mr. Putin ordered the invasion, including the withdrawal of major companies such as Visa, Mastercard, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s from the Russian market and the closure of European and North American airspace to Russian airlines. Mr. Lavrov said Russia would endure the measures by reorienting its economy. “We will cope with sanctions in such a way that we will never depend on Westerners. We will take such measures so we will never face similar situation again.”
Three days after the war began, Mr. Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on their highest level of readiness, but Mr. Lavrov said Thursday: “I don’t want to believe, and I do not believe, that a nuclear war could start.”
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