- About 20 thousand people fled from Mariupol in private cars – Ukraine
- Hundreds of thousands are still trapped in the city
- The UK says Russian forces are struggling to make progress
- Ukraine’s president says peace talks are more ‘realistic’
- US President Biden meets NATO leaders
Kyiv/Lviv, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine emphasized the new area of compromise on Wednesday as peace talks are set to resume three weeks after a Russian offensive that has so far failed to topple the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the talks had become “more realistic”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was “some hope for a compromise”, with Ukraine’s neutral status – a key Russian demand – on the table now.
The Kremlin said the two sides were discussing Ukraine’s status along the lines of Austria or Sweden, two EU members outside the NATO military alliance.
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Three weeks after the invasion, Russian forces were stopped at the gates of Kyiv, having suffered heavy losses and failed to capture any of Ukraine’s largest cities in a war that Western officials say Moscow believed would be victorious within days.
Ukrainian officials this week hoped the war would end sooner than expected — even within weeks — as Moscow was dealing with a shortage of new troops to keep fighting.
The talks were scheduled to resume on Wednesday via a video link of what would be for the third day in a row, the first time that they lasted more than one day, which the two sides suggested means that they will enter a more serious stage.
“Meetings are continuing, and I have learned that the positions during the negotiations are already looking more realistic. But there is still time for decisions to be in Ukraine’s interest,” Zelensky said in a video address overnight.
On Tuesday, Zelensky hinted at a possible path to a settlement, noting that Ukraine would be willing to accept international security guarantees that fell short of its long-held hope of full NATO accession.
Keeping Ukraine out of NATO has always been one of Russia’s main demands, in the months before it launched what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “discredit” Ukraine.
“Negotiations are not easy for obvious reasons,” Lavrov told RBC News. “But nonetheless, there is some hope that a compromise will be found.”
“The neutral situation is now being discussed seriously, with security guarantees, of course,” Lavrov said. “Now this very thing is being discussed in the negotiations – there are quite specific formulas and they are, in my opinion, close to agreement.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a demilitarized Ukraine with its own army, similar to Austria or Sweden, was seen as a potential compromise. It is the largest of the six countries in the European Union outside of NATO.
“This is a variable that is currently being discussed and can be considered a compromise,” Peskov was quoted by RIA as saying.
The head of Ukraine’s negotiating team, Zelensky’s aide, Mikhailo Podlyak, tweeted before the talks resumed on Wednesday that the Ukrainian military counterattacks “drastically changed the positions of the parties.”
In an intelligence assessment released on Wednesday, Britain said Russian forces were trapped on the roads, struggling to adapt to the Ukrainian terrain and suffering from a failure to control the air.
“The tactics of the Ukrainian armed forces brilliantly exploited Russia’s lack of maneuverability, thwarting the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces,” the statement said.
Three million refugees
The largest invasion of Europe since World War II devastated some Ukrainian cities and sent more than 3 million refugees fleeing abroad.
The streets of the capital, Kyiv, were largely empty on Wednesday after authorities imposed an overnight curfew. Residents and emergency workers said several buildings in a residential area were badly damaged after what appeared to be a Russian missile was shot down in the early hours of Wednesday.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, as a specialized rescue team searched for signs of life in the rubble. The surrounding streets were covered with broken glass from hundreds of smashed windows in a wide area. And what appeared to be an engine from the rocket was twisted by the side of the road.
However, the Ukrainian forces withstood an attack by a much larger army. Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had killed the fourth Russian brigade in the latest fighting. Reuters was not immediately able to verify his statement.
“The occupiers did not succeed today, although they threw thousands of their sons into the battle in the north, east and south of our state. The enemy lost equipment and hundreds of other soldiers. A lot of dead Russian conscripts, dozens of officers.”
Ukraine said some 20,000 people have managed to escape the besieged port of Mariupol in private cars, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped under relentless bombardment, many without heating, electricity or running water.
Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk said it was not clear if the humanitarian corridor into the city would open on Wednesday. It said 400 staff and patients were hostages at a hospital held by Russian forces in Mariupol on Tuesday.
The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia are due to arrive home on Wednesday after an overnight train journey from Kyiv. They met Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday in the first such visit since the start of the war, which is a symbol of the Ukrainian administration’s success so far in the face of the Russian offensive.
Zelensky was due to address the US Congress later on Wednesday via video link, after it appeared in parliaments across Europe. The White House said that US President Joe Biden will make his first visit to Europe since the invasion next week to discuss the crisis with NATO allies.
The conflict has left Russia economically isolated and the full economic price came to light on Wednesday, as its sanctions-ridden government teeters on the brink of its first international debt default since the Bolshevik Revolution.
Moscow was due to pay $117 million in interest on dollar-denominated sovereign bonds it sold back in 2013, but it faces restrictions on making payments and has talked about paying in rubles, which could lead to a default. Read more
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Peter Graf and Michael Berry; Editing by Lincoln Fest, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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