Kyiv, March 2:
The second round of talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations is expected to take place in just two hours, with the delegations expected to be made up of the same representatives present in the first round of talks on Monday.
On Tuesday, Russia’s state news agency RIA said the second round of talks would take place in Belarus, near the Belarus-Poland border.
The first negotiating session took place in the Gomel region of Belarus on February 28. The parties went through all the topics on the agenda in detail and found several places where similar positions could be projected and agreed to continue the process of talks, according to the head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky.
Russia renewed its assault on Ukraine’s second-largest city on Wednesday in a hammering that lit up the skyline with balls of fire above populated areas, even as both sides said they were ready to resume talks aimed at stopping the devastating new war in Europe.
The escalation in attacks on overcrowded cities followed an initial round of talks between underarmed Ukraine and nuclear power Russia on Monday that only resulted in a promise to meet again. It was unclear what they would report.
The Ukrainian leader said earlier that Russia must stop the bombardment before another meeting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denounced the Russian bombing as a blatant terror campaign, while US President Joe Biden warned on Tuesday that unless the Russian leader ‘pays the price’ for the invasion, the aggression will not stop not just one country.
The shelling continued on Wednesday. Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency quoted the head of the health administration of the northern city of Chernihiv as saying that two cruise missiles hit a hospital there. The main hospital building suffered damage, Serhiy Pivovar said, and authorities were working to determine the number of casualties. No other information was immediately available.
A Russian strike also hit the regional police and intelligence headquarters in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of around 1.5 million, killing four people and injuring several, the service said. Ukrainian state emergency. He said residential buildings were also hit, but did not provide further details.
An explosion blew off the roof of the five-story police building and set the top floor on fire, according to videos and photos released by the service. Pieces of the building were scattered in the adjacent streets. The attack followed one day after another in Kharkiv’s central square that killed at least six people and shocked many Ukrainians for striking at the center of life in a major city. A Russian strike also targeted a television tower in the capital of Kiev. Around 874,000 people have fled Ukraine and the UN refugee agency has warned the number could soon cross the one million mark. Countless others took refuge underground.
The overall death toll from the Seven-Day War is unclear, with neither Russia nor Ukraine releasing the number of soldiers lost. Ukraine’s state emergency service said more than 2,000 civilians had died, although it was impossible to verify this claim.
The UN human rights office has counted 136 civilian deaths, while acknowledging that the true toll is certainly much higher. Ukrainian authorities said five people were killed in the attack on the TV tower, which also hit the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site.
A memorial spokesman said a Jewish cemetery at the site, where Nazi occupiers killed more than 33,000 Jews in two days in 1941, was damaged. Russia previously told people living near transmission facilities used by Ukraine’s intelligence agency to leave their homes. But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday that the airstrike on the TV tower did not hit any residential buildings. He did not address the reported deaths or damage to Babi Yar. Zelenskyy, who called the strike on Kharkiv Square a war crime the world will never forget, expressed outrage on Wednesday at the attack on Babi Yar and fear that other historical and religious sites, such than the Saint Sophia Cathedral, are targeted. . Shelling earlier hit the city of Uman, an important place of pilgrimage for Hasidic Jews.
“It’s beyond humanity,” Zelenskyy said in a speech posted on Facebook. “They have orders to erase our history, our country and all of us.” Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, called on Jews around the world to protest the invasion. Even as Russia continued its assault, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that a delegation would be ready later in the day to meet with Ukrainian officials. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also said his country was ready, but noted that Russia’s demands had not changed and that he would not accept any ultimatums. Neither side has indicated where the talks might take place.
As the war drags on, Russia finds itself increasingly isolated, beset by sanctions that have thrown its economy into turmoil and left the country virtually friendless except for a few nations like China, Belarus and North Korea.
Russia’s main bank Sberbank announced on Wednesday that it was pulling out of European markets amid tougher Western sanctions. In Washington, Biden used his first State of the Union address on Tuesday to underscore the resolve of a reinvigorated Western alliance that has worked to rearm Ukraine’s military and enact those tough sanctions.
“Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson – when dictators don’t pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They keep moving. And the costs and threats to America and the world keep mounting.”
As Biden spoke, a 40-mile (64 kilometer) convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles slowly advanced on Kiev, the capital of nearly 3 million people, in what the West feared would be an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to overthrow the government and install a pro-Kremlin regime. The invading forces also pushed their assault on other towns and cities. The British Ministry of Defense said that Kharkiv and the strategic port of Mariupol were surrounded by Russian forces and that the troops would have moved towards the center of a third city, Kherson.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had seized Kherson, although the city’s mayor denied that Russia had taken full control. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, said it received a letter from Russia saying its military had taken control of Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.
According to the letter, plant staff continued their “work on nuclear safety and radiation monitoring in normal operating mode”, and they said “radiation levels remain normal”. Russia has already taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. The IAEA says it has received a request from Ukraine to “provide immediate assistance in coordinating activities related to the safety” of Chernobyl. and other sites.
Many military experts fear that Russia is changing tactics. Moscow’s strategy in Chechnya and Syria was to use artillery and aerial bombardment to pulverize cities and crush the resolve of fighters. The UK Ministry of Defense said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. Human Rights Watch said it documented a cluster bomb attack outside a hospital in eastern Ukraine in recent days. Residents also reported the use of such weapons in Kharkiv and in the village of Kiyanka.
The Kremlin denied using cluster bombs. Cluster bombs fire smaller “bombettes” over a wide area, many of which do not explode until long after being dropped. If their use is confirmed, it would represent a new level of brutality in warfare. In the southern port city of Mariupol, the mayor said Wednesday morning that the attacks had been relentless. “We can’t even get the wounded out of the streets, houses and apartments today, since the shelling doesn’t stop,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. Boychenko called Russia’s actions “genocide” – using the same word Putin used to justify the invasion.
On Tuesday, Moscow issued new escalation threats, days after raising the specter of nuclear war. A senior Kremlin official has warned that the West’s “economic war” against Russia could turn into a “real war”. Russia blamed the conflict on Western threats to Russia’s security, and Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Moscow was considering counter-sanctions against “hostile countries”.
He did not specify what they might target. Peskov acknowledged that the global economic punishment hitting Russia and Russians is now “unprecedented”, but said Moscow was ready for all sorts of sanctions and that potential damage had been considered before launching the invasion.
“We have experience in this area. We have been through several crises,” he said. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had evidence that Belarus, an ally of Russia, was preparing to send troops to Ukraine. A ministry statement posted early Wednesday on Facebook said Belarusian troops have been brought to combat readiness and are concentrated near Ukraine’s northern border. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country has no plans to join the fight.
(with PTI inputs)