No breakthrough in Russian-Ukrainian talks as beleaguered civilians come under bombardment
- The Russian invasion enters its third week
- Zelenskiy accuses Russia of genocide
- Russia bombs children’s hospital, city council says
- Russia says the building is no longer used as a hospital
- Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Turkey for talks
LVIV, Ukraine/ANTALYA, Turkey, March 10 (Reuters) – Talks between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia on Thursday brought no respite to the conflict, with hundreds of thousands of civilians remaining trapped in Ukrainian towns safe from Russian air raids and bombardments.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine enters its third week, Mariupol officials say Russian warplanes have again bombed the southern port city where a maternity hospital was blown up the day before.
Putin, facing global condemnation of the aggression and increasingly isolated, said Russia would eventually emerge stronger after overcoming difficulties caused by international economic sanctions.
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He told a government meeting that there had been no alternative to what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
“There are questions, problems and difficulties, but in the past we have overcome them and we will overcome them,” he said.
But the British government blacklisted other Russian oligarchs on Thursday, including Britain’s best-known Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea soccer team.
Despite Putin’s defiance, the invasion has so far failed to achieve its stated goals, but it has claimed thousands of lives and more than two million people have fled the country, while several towns are under siege.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Dmytro Kuleba met in Turkey on Thursday as part of the highest-level talks since the start of the conflict.
Kuleba said later that Lavrov refused to promise to stop the fire so that aid could reach civilians and hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Mariupol and elsewhere could be evacuated along humanitarian corridors.
In a separate press conference, Lavrov showed no sign of concessions, saying the operation was going to be planned and reiterating Moscow’s accusations that Ukraine posed a threat to Russia.
A ceasefire was not supposed to be on the agenda for Thursday’s talks in Antalya, Lavrov said.
Aid agencies say humanitarian aid is most urgently needed in Mariupol, where residents lack food, water and electricity. The capture of Mariupol would allow Russia to link pro-Moscow enclaves to the east and Russian annexed Crimea to the southwest.
Attempts to send aid and evacuation convoys have failed for six days.
Russian warplanes were targeting convoy routes on Thursday, said Petro Andrushenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol.
“The airstrikes started early in the morning. Airstrikes after airstrikes. The whole historic center is shelled,” he told Reuters by telephone.
“They absolutely want to suppress our town, suppress our people. They want to stop any evacuations.”
Lavrov said the hospital hit on Wednesday had stopped treating patients and had been occupied by Ukrainian “radicals”. The Kremlin said the incident was under investigation. Read more
The Russian Defense Ministry later denied bombing the hospital, accusing Ukraine of “staged provocation”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked on Wednesday: “What kind of country is it, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals, is afraid of maternity wards and destroys them?”
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the attack on the hospital could constitute a war crime and should be investigated, calling it “inhumane, cruel and tragic”.
Lavrov accused Western countries of aggravating the situation by arming Ukraine.
When asked if the conflict could lead to a nuclear war, he replied: “I don’t want to believe, and I don’t believe, that a nuclear war could break out.”
Russia says its offensive is aimed at disarming its neighbor and dislodging leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Kiev and its Western allies say it is a baseless excuse to invade a democratic country of 44 million people.
But so far, Russian forces have failed to crush the Ukrainian army and eliminate its leaders, while Zelenskiy has rallied his people and Western military aid has poured in across the Polish and Romanian borders.
Russian troops have advanced south but have yet to capture a town to the north or east. Western nations have said they believe that after a planned blitz on the capital Kiev failed at the start of the war, Moscow turned to tactics involving far more destructive assaults.
Britain said on Thursday that a Russian column northwest of Kiev had made little progress in more than a week and was suffering casualties.
Western-imposed sanctions designed to cut off the Russian economy and government from international markets have hit hard, with the ruble plunging. Read more
The Mariupol hammering underscored US warnings that the biggest assault on a European state since 1945 could become increasingly attritional after Russia’s initial setbacks.
Russia has repeatedly pledged since Saturday to stop firing so that at least some trapped civilians can escape from Mariupol. Both sides blamed the other for the failed evacuations.
Half of the more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees are children. The International Committee of the Red Cross said homes had been destroyed across Ukraine.
Survivors from the hardest-hit towns are among the refugees, many of whom suffer physical injuries and psychological trauma.
At the Polish border, Valera, a carpenter in his 50s, nervously watched his 24-year-old daughter Anna being carried on a stretcher.
It had been two days since they left the eastern city of Kharkiv, where Anna, who has cerebral palsy, broke her leg as they ran for a bomb shelter.
“There’s positional fighting during the day, air raids at night, they’re bombing everything from fighter jets,” he said. “The center is ruined, the outskirts have already been bombed.”
He was one of the few men to cross into Ukraine, as those of conscription age are usually forced to stay.
Zelenskiy’s chief economic adviser said Russian forces have so far destroyed at least $100 billion worth of Ukrainian infrastructure, buildings and other physical assets.
The war has caused 50% of Ukrainian businesses to shut down completely, while the other half is operating well below capacity, Oleg Ustenko told an online event.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Gareth Jones
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