UN chief not hopeful of ceasefire as Ukraine pleads for more weapons as it prepares for renewed Russian attack

The United Nations’ humanitarian chief has he’s not optimistic about securing a ceasefire to halt the fighting in Ukraine following high-level talks in Moscow and Kyiv that underscored how far apart the two sides are.

ndersecretary-General Martin Griffiths gave the bleak assessment in an interview in the Ukrainian capital after wrapping up talks with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other top officials. That followed discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow earlier in the week.

“I think it’s not going to be easy because the two sides, as I know now … have very little trust in each other,” he said.

“I’m not optimistic,” he added later.

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Ukrainian children, who fled to Mexico amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, pose for a photo with their dog before being transported to the El Chaparral port of entry on the border between Mexico and the U.S. to enter the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, April 6, 2022. REUTERS/Quetzalli Nicte-ha

This evening Russia expelled two Irish diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of four Russian embassy staff suspected by Ireland of spying. Foreign minister Simon Coveney said the move was “unjustified”.

The European Union has approved new sanctions against Russia, including an embargo on coal imports.

It comes in the wake of the US saying there is evidence of Russian troops engaging in torture and killings in war zones outside the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

The ban on coal imports will be the first EU sanctions targeting Russia’s energy industry over its war in Ukraine, an official said on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made.


Cemetery workers load the corpses of civilians killed in Bucha into a truck, to be transported to the morgue, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Russia was responsible for war crimes in a wide-ranging interview with Sky News.

He rejected suggestions that Vladimir Putin would appear in a war crimes court, saying: “We don’t see any possibility for that, we don’t consider it to be realistic.” But, he admitted that the “significant losses of troops” is a “huge tragedy for us.”

A total of 4,676 people were evacuated on Thursday from Ukrainian towns and cities through 10 “humanitarian corridors,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Vereshchuk, in a video post on her Telegram channel, said among the evacuees were 1,205 residents of the besieged city of Mariupol, who were taken to Zaporizhzhia.


Tetiana Oleksiienko cries standing at the gate of her house in the village of Andriivka, Ukraine, heavily affected by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dispatched Griffiths to the Russian and Ukrainian capitals to explore the possibility of establishing a cease-fire that would allow desperately needed aid into Ukraine and potentially lay the groundwork for talks aimed at ending the war.

Griffiths suggested that goal remained far in the distance.

“Obviously, we all want that to happen. But as you know — you’re here — that’s not going to happen immediately,” he said.

Russia launched its assault on Ukraine just over six weeks ago, on February 24. The fighting has displaced millions of people within the country and prompted more than 4 million Ukrainians to seek shelter abroad.

The UN’s human rights office has recorded more than 1,400 civilians killed in the fighting, though the actual numbers of deaths is certain to be higher.

Representatives of the two countries have held a number of meetings by video link and in person, but those discussions have not ended the fighting.

Short of a full ceasefire, Griffiths said he is seeking ways to build confidence on both sides and focus on smaller goals, such as establishing local ceasefires in parts of the country and creating humanitarian corridors that allow civilians to escape the fighting.


Women walk along a street in front of the destroyed Hotel Ukraine, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Chernihiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. REUTERS/Marko Djurica TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

“This war is not stopping tomorrow,” he said. “Where we are a little bit closer is to get the understanding of both sides … of what a local ceasefire would affect. There are many parts of Ukraine where we can achieve tomorrow local ceasefires, which are defined in geography and time.”

Relief supplies have begun flowing to some harder to reach parts of the country, he noted.

Russian troops have withdrawn from parts of Ukraine, particularly around Kyiv, ahead of what many believe is an intensified push in the country’s east.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba renewed his country’s plea for more weapons from NATO countries Thursday, pointing to atrocities that have come to light in the town of Bucha and other areas that Russian troops have withdrawn from in recent days.

Local ceasefires could still mean progress even in areas without ongoing fighting, Griffiths said, because they require that forces don’t move and so therefore could not regroup elsewhere.

Aid groups have struggled to get supplies to those in need.

Over the past week, members of a Red Cross convoy were prevented from reaching the besieged city of Mariupol to help evacuate a convoy of civilians. They were detained at one point during their mission, and eventually ended up accompanying around 1,000 people who had found ways of their own out of Mariupol to a city further west.

An overwhelming majority of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly has twice called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine, on March 2 and March 24.

Griffiths said he expects to travel to Turkey in the next week for further talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire. That country, which shares a Black Sea coast with Russia and Ukraine, maintains ties with both and has positioned itself as a go-between for peace negotiations.

He also expects to return to Moscow, and characterised his most recent visit as a first round of talks.

“Look, I’m used to the idea that a ceasefire, which is what I’m tasked to try and achieve, takes time,” he said.

UK and Nato allies have agreed to supply “new and heavier” weapons to Ukraine as Kyiv warned it needs immediate reinforcement in its struggle against Russia or it will be “too late”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said, following a meeting with alliance counterparts in Brussels, there had been agreement to help the Ukrainian defenders upgrade their “Soviet era equipment to Nato standard equipment on a bilateral basis”.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss labelled Russia a “global pariah” after a United Nations vote to suspend Vladimir Putin’s country from the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN General Assembly voted by 93 to 24 to suspend Russia from the human rights body, with 58 abstentions.

Nato foreign ministers met in the Belgian capital on Thursday to hear the demands from Ukraine for more equipment before agreeing to bolster their defences.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking after the talks, said there was cautious optimism about the level of Western military backing for his country, but urged for weapons to be handed over swiftly.

Mr Kuleba warned: “Either you help us now, and I’m speaking about days, not weeks, or your help will come too late.”

We recognised that the conflict has entered a new and different phase with a more concentrated Russian offensive

He declined to say which countries would be providing equipment or what kind they would be.

Following the conclusion of the Nato meeting, Ms Truss said: “We agreed to step up support for Ukraine and we’ve also recognised that the conflict has entered a new and different phase with a more concentrated Russian offensive.

“There was support for countries to supply new and heavier equipment to Ukraine so that they can respond to these new threats from Russia.

“And we agreed to help Ukrainian forces move from their Soviet era equipment to Nato standard equipment on a bilateral basis.

“Putin has changed his tactics, but not his intent.

“He wants a hold over the whole of Ukraine.

“And our objective as a United Kingdom remains clear: Putin must lose in Ukraine.”

Nato allies fear that Russia’s decision to withdraw from areas around Kyiv will allow Mr Putin, the Russian president, to concentrate his offensive in Ukraine’s east.

Ukrainian generals have visited the UK to see some of the kit that could potentially be offered, including armoured vehicles which could offer troops protection from Russian attack as they move around the war zone.

The Czech Republic has reportedly sent Soviet-era tanks and personnel carriers to Ukraine, and The Times suggested the UK is also drawing up plans to supply armoured vehicles to help resist Russian forces.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier on Thursday indicated that Britain was looking to offer more military assistance, a move Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed.

The UK is already supplying equipment including anti-tank and anti-air missiles to Ukraine’s armed forces.

According to The Times, options under consideration at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for furthering that support include sending Mastiff or Jackal patrol vehicles to the battlefield.

The latest MoD intelligence assessment confirmed Russia is now focused on operations in the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine.

Russian artillery and air strikes continue in the region, with officials suggesting attacks on infrastructure targets are designed to make it more difficult for the Ukrainian military to resupply.

But, despite having regrouped following a failed offensive on the capital, Russian forces are “likely to continue facing morale issues and shortages of supplies and personnel”, the MoD said.

On sanctions, the Foreign Secretary said she hoped to see “more countries” commit to banning Russian energy imports, as Kyiv pushed for European leaders to go further in punishing Moscow.

Mr Kuleba said: “As long as the West continues buying Russian gas and oil it is supporting Ukraine with one hand while supporting the Russian war machine with another hand.

“How many Buchas have to take place for you to impose sanctions?” he said, referring to images of Ukrainian civilians apparently killed by retreating Russian forces on the outskirts of Kyiv. UN chief not hopeful of ceasefire as Ukraine pleads for more weapons as it prepares for renewed Russian attack

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