First high-level talks between Ukraine and Russia as ‘atrocities’ intensify


Ukraine and Russia’s foreign ministers have failed to make progress towards a ceasefire in their first high-level talks as ‘atrocities’ against civilians appeared to be intensifying.

Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba met Russia’s Sergei Lavrov in Turkey on Thursday (local time), but Mr Kuleba said he could secure no promise from Russia to halt firing so aid could reach civilians.

It followed a deadly bomb attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol that drew international outrage and which Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said was “proof of genocide”, with three people killed including a child.

“What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternity hospitals, and destroys them?” Mr Zelenskiy said in a televised address after posting footage of the wreckage.

Russian forces have been accused of blocking and bombing humanitarian corridors which are meant to be allowing Ukraine civilians to flee their besieged cities.

Ukraine said a convoy trying to reach Mariupol had again been turned back by Russian fire on Thursday, and accused Moscow of deliberately blocking aid.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said America and its allies were considering even more sanctions as Russia did not appear to be backing off from the war it started.

“In fact, the atrocities they are committing against civilians seem to be intensifying. So, it’s certainly appropriate for us to be working with our allies to consider further sanctions,” she said.

A man holds a child as Ukrainians flee their homes. Photo: Getty

One of the main humanitarian priorities is evacuating hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the besieged port of Mariupol.

Ukraine’s  foreign minister said Russia had refused to guarantee humanitarian access to rescue hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped under bombardment

“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,” said Mr Kuleba.

“I asked him ‘can you do the same?’ and he did not respond.”

Aid agencies say humanitarian aid is most urgently needed in Mariupol, where 400,000 people have been trapped for more than a week with no food, water or power.

Holding his own simultaneous news conference in a separate room, Mr Lavrov showed no sign of making any concessions, repeating Russian demands that Ukraine be disarmed and accept neutral status.

An injured pregnant woman escapes a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol. Photo: AAP

The Russian foreign minister claimed the bombed maternity building was no longer used as a hospital and had been occupied by Ukrainian forces.

The Kremlin did not initially repeat that denial and said the incident was being investigated.

Mr Lavrov repeatedly lashed out at the West, accusing Western countries of inflaming the situation by arming Ukraine.

Asked if the conflict could lead to nuclear war, he said: “I don’t want to believe, and I do not believe, that a nuclear war could start.”

Russia’s war in Ukraine entered a third week with none of its stated objectives reached, despite thousands killed, more than two million made refugees and thousands cowering in besieged cities under relentless bombardment.

Russian forces have advanced in the south but have yet to capture a single city in the north or east.

The UK Defence Ministry said on Thursday that a large Russian column northwest of Kyiv had made little progress in more than a week and was suffering continued losses.

Ukrainian serviceman Andriy Yermolayev, 50, who lost part of his leg during Russian shelling is evacuated from the city of Irpin, west of Kyiv. Photo: Getty

Putin:  Russia will ‘overcome’ sanctions

Western-led sanctions designed to cut the Russian economy and government from international financial markets have bitten hard, with the rouble plunging and ordinary Russians rushing to hoard cash.

But Vladimir Putin said Russia would ultimately emerge stronger and more independent after overcoming the difficulties caused by “illegitimate” sanctions.

“These sanctions would have been imposed in any case,” the president told a meeting of the Russian government on Thursday.

“There are some questions, problems and difficulties but in the past we have overcome them and we will overcome them.”

Mr Putin said Western sanctions were illegitimate and Russia would calmly solve the problems arising from them.

He said the country, which is a major energy producer suppling one-third of Europe’s gas, would continue to meet its contractual obligations.

Speaking calmly, the Kremlin leader acknowledged that sanctions imposed were being felt.

“It is clear that at such moments people’s demand for certain groups of goods always increases, but we have no doubt that we will solve all these problems while working in a calm fashion,” he said.

“Gradually, people will orient themselves, they will understand that there are simply no events that we cannot close off and solve.”

Oligarch Chelsea owner sanctioned

Britain’s government has halted a planned sale of soccer club Chelsea as well as the sale of players, new tickets and merchandise after it imposed sanctions on its owner, Roman Abramovich, but said the team will be able to play matches.

Mr Abramovich said last week he was putting the club up for sale, but Britain’s asset freeze and sanctions on him bar that process under the terms of the licence granted to the club.

The government said it had issued a special licence to allow Chelsea to play fixtures and pay staff, but it will limit the sale of tickets, merchandise and even players effective from Thursday.

Mr Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, sparking a period of unprecedented success — and spending for the club, which won five league titles and two Champions League trophies under his ownership.

Nadine Dorries, Britain’s minister for sport, said the government had issued the licence because it did not want to unnecessarily harm the reigning European and world soccer champions.

“I know this brings some uncertainty, but the government will work with the league and clubs to keep football being played while ensuring sanctions hit those intended,” she said on Twitter.

“Football clubs are cultural assets and the bedrock of our communities. We’re committed to protecting them.”

-with AAP

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