The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine will hold the first high-ranking meeting since the beginning of the invasion in Turkey on Thursday. The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, are scheduled to meet in the Antalya resort.
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After two weeks of fighting, the meeting arouses great expectations due to the recent statement by Ukrainian officials to desist from joining NATO as a commitment to facilitate their contacts with Russia, which could bring positions between the two delegations closer.
Until now, only lower-ranking officials in Belarus had met to explore the possibilities of a ceasefire or to agree on humanitarian corridors in different regions of Ukraine for the evacuation of civilians.
Turkey will be the host given its relations with both countries. At the meeting, Moscow will insist on its demands to end the invasion, such as the neutrality and demilitarization of Ukraine and a Ukrainian recognition of Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula and the independence of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kiev refuses to give up part of its territory.
“We can talk about Ukraine’s neutrality under certain conditions,” said President Volodimir Zelensky’s adviser, Ihor Zhovkva, who gave statements to German public television ARD yesterday. The Russians consider the meeting as a continuation of the contacts initiated, but Kiev has “limited” expectations.
This trip to Antalya marks Lavrov’s first trip outside Russia, a country increasingly isolated by international sanctions, since the beginning of the invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Before this meeting, the atmosphere between both parties had risen due to the request of the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelenski, Western powers to send fighter jets “as soon as possible”. Poland declared itself ready to deliver these war artifacts, but then left the decision up to NATO.
(Read here: Ukraine opens six humanitarian corridors after agreeing to a ceasefire)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov warned that this would create “a very undesirable and potentially dangerous scenario.”
After these words from the Kremlin, the Pentagon revealed that the United States deployed two new Patriot anti-aircraft batteries in Poland, a move interpreted as support for NATO countries that are close to Russia.
After these fifteen days of conflict, the human and material balance increases vertiginously: an avalanche of deaths and an exodus of refugees.
The conflict that began on February 24 caused one of the largest humanitarian crises on the continent.
More than two million people have fled to take refuge abroad, mostly in Poland, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Even Europe expects to receive up to five million refugees.
As for the death toll, the balance changes according to the reporting source. The latest UN count says at least 474 civilians have been killed and 861 wounded. However, the organization says that the figures are probably lower than reality.
A week ago, in fact, the Ukrainian government reported that a total of 2,000 civilians had been killed. As for the number of military deaths, Russia, which has mobilized more than 150,000 soldiers, is undoubtedly facing heavy losses.
The only official Russian report available, published on March 2, speaks of almost 500 soldiers killed and 1,600 wounded in their ranks, an average of about 80 dead and 260 wounded per day. The figures seem underestimated.
According to various Western intelligence sources, the Russian invasion was going to be short and quick. However, the Pentagon has said that for Moscow the military operation has taken longer than expected.
By the way, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, assured yesterday that he is “convinced” that Russia will suffer a “strategic defeat” in Ukraine, stressing that it has already “failed in its main objectives.”
(In other news: NATO debates sending planes to Ukraine in the face of Russian threats)
On the casualties of Ukrainian soldiers, the Kiev authorities have not given an official balance. However, Moscow assures that 2,800 Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives.
Sanctions have also marked these two weeks of invasion. The exclusion of the main Russian banks from the Swift banking system, the Moscow oil ban and the departure of Western companies from Russia (including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks) are some of these measures that the main powers have applied together Westerners.
On the other hand, the day of this March 9 in Ukraine was marked by the denunciation of a Russian bombing of a children’s hospital in Mariupol. “Direct attack by Russian troops on children’s hospital. There are people, children under the rubble. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be complicit?” Zelensky denounced on Twitter.
The attack, which caused at least 17 injuries according to the Ukrainian authoritiestook place while six humanitarian corridors were open for the evacuation of civilians from the cities, amid mutual accusations of breaching the truces.
Mariupol has been under siege for more than a week, and according to the mayor of this key port, some 1,200 civilians have been killed in this period.
These evacuation zones were agreed upon by Kiev and Moscow to function for twelve hours. According to Ukrainian authorities, yesterday more than 40,000 civilians were evacuated from towns across the country where hostilities are taking place.
The areas in which it was agreed to cease the attacks were between Energodar and Zaporizhia; Sumy, in the direction of the city of Poltava; Mariupol and Zaporiye; Volnovakha with Pokrovsk; and between Pasas and Lozova (in the Kharkiv region). The sixth corridor was in Kiev, where the Russian troops were a few kilometers away yesterday.
In another key issue on Wednesday, Russia announced control of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhia nuclear power plants. Incidentally, the Ukrenergo National Power Company reported that Chernobyl had lost electricity due to attacks by Russian troops and that the plant’s power reserves would run out within hours.
However, the UN said yesterday that despite the power outage at Chernobyl, this did not represent a major security risk.
Finally, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom yesterday announced new sanctions against Moscow.
The EU added 160 Russian tycoons to its blacklist and excluded three Belarusian banks from Swift. For its part, London banned Russian aircraft from its airspace.
*With AFP and Efe
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