Sunday, June 26, 2022

Putin urged to hold ‘direct, serious negotiations’ with Zelensky

The leaders of France and Germany have urged Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hold “direct [and] serious negotiations” with Ukraine’s president, the German chancellor’s office said.

Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz spoke to Mr Putin by phone for 80 minutes, reports BBC.

The pair “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops”, the chancellor’s office said.

Russia’s leader said Moscow was open to resuming dialogue with Kyiv, according to the Kremlin.

It did not mention the possibility of direct talks between Mr Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian president earlier said he was not “eager” for talks, but added they would likely be necessary to end the conflict.

Russian and Ukrainian delegations have held multiple rounds of talks remotely and in person since Russia invaded on 24 February, but efforts have stalled of late.

France and Germany also urged Mr Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters taken as prisoners-of-war at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

The sprawling factory became the last holdout in the southern port city, which endured relentless bombardment from Russian forces and now lies in ruins.

Earlier this month, Moscow officials said the last fighters defending the plant had surrendered, while President Zelensky said they had been given permission to leave.

Russia has previously said more than 900 of the fighters were moved to a reopened prison colony in Olenivka, a village in Russian-occupied Donetsk. A smaller number with serious wounds were taken to a hospital in the town of Novoazovsk, also in Donetsk.

Ukraine hopes they will be released as part of a prisoner exchange – but Russia has not confirmed that. Some Russian lawmakers argue the fighters should be tried or even executed.

Elsewhere in the call, the French and German leaders asked Mr Putin to lift Russia’s blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odesa, to allow for grain exports.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin offered to look at options, to help address the risk of a global food crisis – but demanded that the West lift sanctions.

Russia also warned France and Germany against increasing weapons supplies to Ukraine, saying that could increase instability still further.

Ukrainian officials say there has been fighting on the streets in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, the easternmost place still under Ukrainian control.

The governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said Russia had been firing heavily on the city, although its forces had suffered significant losses.

On Friday, officials said two-thirds of its perimeter was surrounded by Russian forces.

Mr Haidai said Ukrainian troops could withdraw from Severodonetsk, observing: “It is possible that in order not to be surrounded, they will have to leave.”

In comments to the BBC on Saturday, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the Russian invasion of his country had destroyed more than 25,000 km (15,000 miles) of roads, several hundred bridges, and 12 airports.

More than 100 educational institutions, over 500 medical facilities, and 200 factories have also been ruined or damaged, he said.

He called for Russia to be forced to pay for “the destruction it has created”, saying frozen Russian assets should be transferred to Ukraine to fund reconstruction work.

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