- ‘Close to an agreement’, says the Russian Lavrov
- Russia describes the state of Ukraine similar to Austria, Sweden
- Zelenskiy asks for help in his speech to the United States Congress
- Kiev seeks ceasefire, withdrawal, security guarantees
KIEV / LVIV, Ukraine, March 16 (Reuters) – New compromise speech from both Moscow and Kiev on a status for Ukraine outside of NATO raised hope for a potential breakthrough after three weeks of war on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the negotiations were becoming “more realistic”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the proposals now under discussion were “close to an agreement”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered his troops to enter Ukraine on February 12. 24, said Moscow was ready to discuss neutral status for its neighbor.
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But Putin also said that Russia would achieve its goals in Ukraine and would not submit to what he called a Western attempt to achieve global domination and dismember Russia. The military operation was “on schedule,” he said in a televised speech.
On the ground, the 21st day of the conflict saw more bloodshed as Russian forces besieged and bombed cities.
The United States said Russian forces shot and killed 10 people lined up for bread in the city of Chernihiv. He did not cite evidence of the attack and Russia did not comment on the allegation, made in a US embassy statement.
The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine said Russian forces fired heavy artillery at a convoy of displaced people from the southern port city of Mariupol, injuring five people. The Ukrainian army said children were among the victims. Russia says it does not target civilians.
Three weeks into the conflict, Russian troops were stopped at the gates of Kiev, after suffering heavy losses and failing to reach sixteen of the largest cities in the war in Ukraine. Western officials say Moscow is expected to win within days.
The talks were scheduled for Wednesday via a video link for the third consecutive day.
“The meetings continue and, I am told, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic,” Zelenskiy said in a video speech overnight.
The Kremlin said the parties are discussing the status for Ukraine similar to that of Austria or Sweden, both members of the European Union who are outside the NATO military alliance.
The Ukrainian chief negotiator said Kiev is still calling for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Signs of compromise have sent relief across global financial markets.
In a speech to the US Congress that aroused a standing ovation, Zelenskiy called for more severe sanctions on Russia and more weapons to help his country fight “for the values of Europe and the world”.
Speaking via a video link, he invoked the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and cited Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech calling for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“In the darkest period for our country, for the whole of Europe, I invite you to do more,” said Zelenskiy, who did not have a long beard and wore a military green T-shirt and showed video clips of dead children and buildings and wounded detonated by bombs.
The White House later claimed that US President Joe Biden had not changed his opposition to imposing a no-fly zone on Ukraine, something military experts say would be the equivalent of US entry. at war with Russia.
CHANGES IN UKRAINE
In what was seen as a major shift, Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that Ukraine could accept guarantees of international security that stalled before its long-standing goal of joining NATO.
Keeping Ukraine out of the Western military alliance was one of Russia’s main demands before unleashing what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor.
“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along with, of course, security guarantees,” said Russian Lavrov. “There are absolutely specific formulations that in my opinion are close to agreement”.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s chief negotiator, told state TV: “Ukraine offers an Austrian or Swedish version of a demilitarized neutral state, but at the same time a state with its own army and navy.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the idea “could really be seen as a compromise”.
Austria and Sweden, the largest of the EU’s six members outside NATO, both have small armies cooperating with the alliance.
Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Kiev is seeking direct talks between Zelenskiy and Putin. Moscow said they could meet but only to finalize an agreement already in place.
“Our position in the negotiations is quite specific: legally verified security guarantees, ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian troops. This is only possible with direct dialogue between the leaders of Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” Podolyak said.
While Russia has long opposed Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, Kiev and its allies have argued that Moscow’s real goal was to overthrow Ukraine’s pro-Western elected leaders, which has been countered by stiff resistance on the ground. of battle of Ukraine.
THREE MILLION REFUGEES
The largest European invasion since World War II devastated Ukrainian cities and sent over 3 million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.
The streets of the capital Kiev were largely empty after authorities imposed a 35-hour curfew. 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 the morning, residents and rescuers said.
However, the Ukrainian forces resisted the onslaught of a much larger army. Zelenskiy said Ukrainian troops have killed a fourth Russian major general in recent fighting. Reuters was able to verify this.
Ukraine said around 20,000 people have fled the besieged port of Mariupol by car, but millions of thousands remain trapped under the shelling without heating, electricity or water.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 400 employees and patients were being held hostage in a hospital that Russian forces captured in Mariupol on Tuesday.
Russia was supposed to pay $ 117 million in interest on dollar-denominated sovereign bonds, but could instead pay in rubles, equal to its first foreign debt default since the Bolshevik revolution. Moscow said it has the money and Washington would be guilty if it can’t pay.
In his most explicit acknowledgment of the pain inflicted by Western sanctions, Putin said inflation and unemployment would rise and structural changes to the economy would be required.
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Reporting by the Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan, editing by Tomasz Janowski and Philippa Fletcher
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