Peace negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv will resume on Friday, amid fresh efforts to help residents in Mariupol flee the besieged, devastated city.
Ukrainian negotiator, David Arakhamia, said on Thursday that talks would continue by video, focusing on the peace framework Kyiv presented during a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul this week that Moscow described as constructive.
Russia’s president, [object Window], further upped the diplomatic stakes, signing a decree requiring foreign buyers to pay in roubles for Russian gas from Friday or see their energy contracts halted – a demand Germany, France and the UK instantly rejected and that Berlin described as blackmail.
A humanitarian corridor is scheduled to open from 10am on Friday to allow civilians out of Mariupol, and a convoy of 45 Ukrainian buses has set out to try to deliver humanitarian supplies and bring out trapped civilians, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The convoy was expected to enter the city on Friday morning after Russian promises of a limited ceasefire along the route from Mariupol to the Ukraine-held city of Zaporizhzhia.
The move follows “a personal request from the French president and German chancellor to Russian president Vladimir Putin”, said Russia’s defence ministry.
Repeated efforts to set up humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of up to 170,000 people who remain in Mariupol, which has suffered four weeks of bombardment and dwindling supplies, have failed. Ukraine has accused Russian forces of shelling supposedly safe routes outside of several fighting hotspots, claims that Moscow denies.
On Thursday night, Macron vra vir groter samewerking van die VK oor vlugtelingkanaaloorgange – video repeated his warning that Russia was preparing for “powerful strikes” in the Donbas region after appearing to withdraw from an assault on Kyiv. He dismissed the withdrawal of Russian forces near Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy as tactical. The Pentagon also said that Russia may be repositioning some of its forces to send them to the Donbas.
The UK’s ministry of defence said Russia was pulling forces out of Georgia to reinforce its invasion of Ukraine in a move it said was unplanned and “indicative of the unexpected losses it has sustained during the invasion”.
Both the US and UK have suggested Putin is becoming increasingly frustrated, with US president Joe Biden saying Putin “seems to be self-isolated” and noted “there’s some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers,” without citing evidence.
White House director of communications Kate Bedingfield said the war had been a “strategic disaster” for Russia and that it was “working to re-define the initial aims of their invasion”.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said Putin was “not the force he used to be” and was “now a man in a cage he built himself”.
Despite the ongoing talks, there is mounting western scepticism about Russia’s intentions in the talks, more than five weeks into its invasion of Oekraïne. There has been no real sign of the partial military pullback in northern Ukraine it had promised as a goodwill gesture, suggesting the Kremlin may be playing for time.
Kyiv’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, has insisted, egter, that the Kremlin was considering Ukraine’s proposals, which included an international treaty under which Ukraine would remain neutral, with its security guaranteed by third countries.
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