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Ukraine agrees to negotiate with Russia, but fighting still rages

KYIV, Ukraine – As Russian forces stormed Ukraine’s capital and officials brought the civilian death toll to more than 350 since the invasion began, the two countries agreed to sit down on Sunday to negotiate “no preconditions”, but hopes are not high for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Even when the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to send a delegation to meet Russian officials near the border with Belarus, he made it clear that he did not expect this to happen. He refused to agree to any conditions or concessions ahead of the talks, making it clear that he would not give Russia the upper hand following its gratuitous attacks.

“I don’t really trust the outcome of this meeting,” he said, “but let them try to make sure that no Ukrainian citizen doubts that I, as president, have not tried to try to stop the war.”

As world leaders moved to isolate Moscow and inflict heavy economic losses on the invasion, Russia showed little interest in de-escalation.

President Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing the “aggressive” actions of the West, said he had asked the Defense Minister and his top military commander to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert. motion. Not only are Western countries imposing “illegal sanctions” on Russia, Putin said, but “high-ranking officials of the top NATO countries are allowing themselves to make statements.” aggression against our country”.

In Ukraine, Russian forces are moving to the south, threatening a major port, and to the north, where they are continuing to advance toward Kyiv.

However, Ukrainian officials expressed apparent satisfaction at Russia’s call for talks, which came as Ukrainian forces encountered more resistance than expected, and did not quickly capture the capital, Kyiv.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said: “The enemy expected an easy walk, but met real hell. Russia’s leadership “doesn’t understand that the country is at war not only with Ukraine’s armed forces, but with the entire Ukrainian people,” he said.

But international military experts warn that the war is young.

They note that Ukrainian forces are thinly spread, have only limited ammunition, and that thousands of better-trained Russian troops have yet to be sent into the war. The worry is that Putin could switch to harsher tactics, including shelling cities, if his forces bog down.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry on Sunday said 352 civilians have been killed since the invasion began, including 14 children.

The demand for talks also comes as the European Union moves to impose tough new economic sanctions on Russia, and as protests in Berlin, Prague, London, Madrid and Brussels over the weekend passed on behalf of the Ukrainians made clear Moscow’s isolation.

Through press secretary Jen Psaki, the White House issued the nuclear warning as another example of Putin’s production threat and used it to justify confrontation.

Top Pentagon leaders remain confident in their ability to protect themselves and US allies, a Pentagon official told reporters. The official called the move to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert as unnecessary and could escalate, and said Putin had made the possibility of a miscalculation more dangerous. a lot of.

Slowed by Ukrainian resistance and their logistical shortcomings, Russian forces began adopting harsher methods such as missile strikes on the city of Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, Pentagon official said. Those tactics could cause more civilian casualties.

The Russian military is adopting a siege mentality, he said, which increases the likelihood of them taking civilian lives and damaging infrastructure.

In the south of Ukraine, Russian troops are advancing, advancing from Crimea and also launching an amphibious assault near Mariupol, where they are 50 kilometers from the city, the official said. Mariupol, a major port, is considered part of any Russian land bridge from Donetsk and Luhansk – regions east of Ukraine that Moscow has just recognized as independent states – to Crimea, which Moscow annexed. entered in 2014.

Russian forces are also moving from the north, where they are moving towards Kyiv.

In the heart of Ukraine, Russia appears to be trying to cut off the main Ukrainian military forces, which are guarding the former lines of communication with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, to prevent them from advancing towards the capital and receive supplies from the West. Allies overland through Poland.

The Russian military has, at least for a while, also drawn close to central Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to videos and photos analyzed by The New York Times. The footage shows Ukrainians firing rockets at Russian troops, as well as several Russian military vehicles on fire and others being ransacked by Ukrainian forces.

With each passing day of the war, Mr. Zelensky, a former comic book character, embraced his new role: as a symbol of courage and patriotism, who united his citizens against the invader.

Once mocked for his entertaining past as the most unlikely president, Mr. Zelensky has transformed into Ukraine’s leader without knowing it. Wearing a military green t-shirt or fleece, unshaven, and wearing a sweater, he inspired Ukrainians to defend their streets with the most rudimentary weapons. He also triumphed over much of Europe, which was turned to aid to a country seen as a heroic fighter for independence, freedom and democracy.

Mr. Zelensky’s decision to stay in Kyiv – and his family’s decision to stay in Ukraine – has moved many. Some have drawn an unflattering contrast to the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul just as the Taliban were on the outskirts, dismaying what remained of the Afghan Army.

And Mr Zelensky’s reaction to the reported US offer to evacuate him – “I need ammunition, not a ride” – will most likely go down in Ukrainian history, regardless of the outcome of the battle.

The President of Ukraine and his team have skillfully used social media. His cryptic speeches on the streets of Kyiv went viral. And they have also posted short photos and videos of Ukrainians filling up Molotov cocktails, volunteering to fight, being issued automatic weapons and vowing to defend their country.

Mr. Zelensky has also inspired European leaders to do more to help his country. His leadership and the resilience of the Ukrainian people “are an inspiration to all of us,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

Appearing on screen during an emergency summit of European Union leaders a few days ago, he delivered a passionate 10-minute speech that prompted some leaders to reluctantly endorse a package harsher economic sanctions on Russia, said a senior European official present in the room.

“This may be the last time you see me alive,” Mr. Zelensky told them.

The silence in the room after Zelensky spoke was impressive, the official said, and his impressions of his speech made a big difference in persuading more reluctant countries, such as Germany, Italy and Hungary, agree to tougher banking and financial sanctions and to the transfer of defensive weapons to Ukraine.

Germany’s new government has also made what some see as a historic shift toward greater responsibility for European security. Hampered by its history of totalitarianism, Germany has been a reluctant hardliner since the fall of the Soviet Union. But on Sunday, in a powerful speech to the German parliament, Chancellor Olaf Scholz turned the tide.

Germany will send defensive weapons to Ukraine; support tougher economic sanctions, including the exclusion of major Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system; and increase military spending to more than 2% of gross domestic product in the near future – a long-standing NATO goal that Germany has resisted. Scholz also proposed a 100 billion euro fund to strengthen the German army.

Mr. Scholz, German officials say, believes Mr. Putin lied to him personally during their face-to-face conversation in Moscow about the Ukraine crisis and that Russia’s invasion posed new serious threats. German and European security cannot be ignored.

During an emergency virtual meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Sunday, the bloc agreed to impose even tougher economic sanctions on Russia and ban Russian planes from entering EU airspace. . They also agreed for the first time to use EU funding to reimburse member states for the purchase and shipment of military equipment to a country under attack.

Ms. von der Leyen, chair of the committee, called it “a watershed moment”.

Weapons and equipment are being sent through Poland into western Ukraine, still out of reach of Russia. Some experts say Russia’s efforts to stop such convoys will increase as shipments stay inside Ukraine.

Ms. von der Leyen also said that the European Union would ban the state news agencies Russia Today and Sputnik, so they “will no longer be able to spread lies to justify Putin’s war and cause division.” .

Europe will continue to welcome refugees, she said. As many as seven European officials say millions of Ukrainians are internally displaced by the conflict.

In Kyiv, 31-year-old Nataly Kasianenko sheltered for days with her husband and a dachshund in a parking garage in the northern neighborhood of Obolon, six miles from the city center, where fierce fighting broke out in Friday and Saturday. “I really lost track of day, night and night,” she said. “We even forget to eat because of this stress.”

Despite the fear, she said, they stayed.

“It’s in our blood, it’s Ukrainian blood,” she said. “We cannot leave, we cannot surrender – we will always stay on our land.”

Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, Anton Troianovski from Moscow and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Andrew E. Kramer, Michael Schwirtz, Marc Santora, Helene Cooper, Aishvarya Kavi, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Monika Proncczuk, Melissa Eddy contribution report.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/27/world/europe/ukraine-war-russia.html Ukraine agrees to negotiate with Russia, but fighting still rages

Fry Electronics Team

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