Russian offensive continues, Moscow insists on Ukraine’s neutrality

A status of neutrality for Ukraine is at the heart of Russian-Ukrainian talks, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, which is continuing its parallel offensive by bombing many Ukrainian cities.

The talks are taking place as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to address the US Congress around 13:00 GMT, and President Joe Bien is due to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to help Ukraine confront Russian forces.

Three weeks after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a neutrality of this former Soviet republic on the model of Sweden and Austria, is “the compromise” that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators are “currently discussing”, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“There are very concrete formulas which I think are close to an agreement”, also estimated the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov, while noting that the talks “are not easy”.

The Ukrainian chief negotiator, however, stressed that kyiv rejected “a Swedish or Austrian model” and demanded “absolute security guarantees” from Russia, whose signatories would undertake to intervene on Ukraine’s side in the event of aggression.

“Ukraine is now in a state of direct war with Russia. Therefore, the model can only be + Ukrainian +”, declared Mykhaïlo Podoliak on his Telegram account.

These statements come as the delegations have resumed talks by videoconference since Monday.

President Zelensky had estimated on Tuesday night that the positions were now “more realistic”, even if it will take “still time for the decisions to be in the interest of Ukraine”.

He had previously said he was ready to renounce any membership of his country in NATO, a casus belli for Russia.

  • Strike on Zaporozhye, City of Refuge

This apparent intensification of negotiations does not prevent the continuation of Russian bombardments on many regions of the country, which have pushed more than three million Ukrainians onto the roads – nearly half of them children.

The capital kyiv has been under curfew since 8:00 p.m. Tuesday (6:00 p.m. GMT) and until Thursday 7:00 a.m., after several strikes hit apartment buildings on Monday and Tuesday.

Several explosions were again heard at dawn on Wednesday, AFP noted. Thick columns of black smoke rose shortly after over the city, like the day before, when several Russian strikes had hit apartment buildings, killing at least four people.

Local authorities did not provide any immediate results or details. With the curfew, journalists are no longer allowed to circulate in the city. Mayor Vitali Klitchko said Tuesday that the capital was going through a “dangerous moment”.

“We are holding on”, assured Tuesday, before the curfew, Vlad Volodko, 26, in front of a supermarket where the inhabitants formed long queues in order to make reservations.

kyiv, which Russian forces are trying to encircle, has been emptied of at least half of its population of 3.5 million since the start of the conflict on February 24.

Metropolises like Kharkiv (north-east) and Mariupol (south-east) are bombarded relentlessly, according to local authorities.

Thousands of people remain stuck in Mariupol, holed up in cellars, even if some 20,000 people were able to leave this strategic port on the Sea of ​​Azov on Tuesday, besieged for days, in the direction of Zaporozhye, more than 200 km north- Where is.

All described an exhausting journey to avoid Russian troops and checkpoints, in constant fear of enemy fire.

And Zaporozhye may not remain a refuge for long: the station was hit by at least one missile on Wednesday, for the first time since the conflict began on February 24, according to the regional governor, apparently without causing any casualties. It is in this region that the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located, which the Russians have occupied since March 4.

The Ukrainian authorities also claim that the Russians took 400 civilians hostage on Tuesday in a hospital in Mariupol, but the information could not be independently verified.

  • Zelensky in front of Congress

Many other regions are under Russian fire, such as Mykolaiv (south), near Odessa.

In Odessa itself, spared for the moment, the Ukrainian authorities say they are “preparing for a landing of Russian troops from the Black Sea”. The authorities of the regions of Zhytomyr (south of kyiv), Sumy (north-east), Dnipro (center) and Severodonetsk (east) also say they are under Russian fire.

Faced with the continuation of the offensive, Volodymyr Zelensky should again call for the establishment of a no-fly zone over his country in his address to the American Congress by video.

US President Joe Biden has so far rejected this request, for fear of seeing the United States and NATO drawn into the conflict.

But he is expected to announce $800 million in new security assistance to help kyiv.

  • Turkish mediation –

On the diplomatic front, Turkey, a NATO member country but having refused to join in the sanctions against Moscow, is continuing its mediation efforts. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu was in Moscow on Wednesday and is due to travel to Ukraine the next day.

He will succeed the Polish, Czech and Slovenian Prime Ministers. MM. Mateusz Morawiecki, Petr Fiala and Janez Jansa, who traveled to kyiv on Tuesday, after a long journey by train, to assure the Ukrainian president of their support.

“We will never leave you alone. We will be with you because we know that you are fighting not only for your freedom, for your own home and for your safety, but also for us,” Morawiecki said on Twitter, before to return to Warsaw on Wednesday.

At the same time, Poland has called for the establishment of a NATO “peace mission”, “protected by the armed forces” to come to the aid of Ukraine.

The subject could be discussed at the extraordinary NATO summit scheduled for March 24 in Brussels, where Joe Biden will go.

  • Counter-sanctions –

Failing to intervene directly militarily, the West continues to supply arms to Ukraine and to toughen their sanctions.

The European Union will deprive Russian oligarchs of luxury sedans, champagne and other high-end items, via a fourth package of sanctions that came into force on Tuesday. The UK followed suit, adding punitive vodka tariffs and additional asset freezes.

Moscow responded with counter-sanctions targeting Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several members of their governments.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is due to deliver its verdict on Wednesday in a procedure launched by kyiv, which asks the highest court of the UN to order Moscow to immediately stop its invasion.

Russia, for its part, is seeking to advance a “humanitarian” draft resolution before the UN Security Council, which could be voted on Thursday.

The Russian text, obtained by AFP, expresses the “deep concern” of the Security Council “at reports of civilian casualties, including children, in and around Ukraine”.

But he is unlikely to win the necessary votes. This text, which “does not call for an immediate end to hostilities”, is “a joke”, reacted a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.


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