Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
Over the weekend, two European leaders urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country’s hostilities in Ukraine and return to the negotiating table as the war nears the 100-day mark.
In a phone call on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Putin, asking him to hold “direct” and “serious” talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to reports. communiqués from the offices of Macron and Scholz. .
In a statement, the Kremlin said Russia “is open to resuming dialogue with Kyiv.” But Putin also warned Macron and Scholz against further arms deliveries to Ukraine, he added, suggesting that continuing to supply weapons could risk “further destabilizing the situation”. And the Kremlin has said any move to allow the export of grain from Ukrainian ports – which have been blockaded by Russian warships – should be answered by lifting what the Kremlin called “relevant sanctions”. .
Negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv have been frozen for weeks. Ukrainian officials have responded with skepticism to the development.
“Not all deals with Russia are worth a penny. Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies with cynicism and propaganda?” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, presidential adviser and member of Ukraine’s negotiating team, on Telegram on Saturday. “A barbarian can only be stopped by force.”
Fighting focuses on Severodonetsk
Sunday marks the 95th day of the Russian invasion. Russia has refocused its efforts on eastern Ukraine, where the fighting is now focused on Severodonetsk, the last major city in the Ukrainian-controlled Luhansk Oblast.
Russian forces are working to encircle the city, according to Ukrainian military officials – the same tactic Russia used against Mariupol and Chernihiv, and attempted against Kyiv. Military analysts and local Ukrainians report that the fighting has been brutal for both sides.
Saturday’s appeal to Putin by Macron and Scholz comes as Europe splits over whether to take a hard line against Russia – or encourage Ukraine to pursue a ceasefire.
An EU summit on the conflict is due to start on Monday. But member states disagree on whether to step up sanctions on Russia or encourage peace talks instead, according to Reuters.
Any peace talks would likely include a discussion of ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia – something Ukraine has firmly stated it will refuse to do.
“If the occupiers think Lyman or Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbass will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskyy said in an overnight address.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy traveled out of Kyiv over the weekend to visit frontline forces near Kharkiv.
While Ukraine has claimed victory in the city of Kharkiv, some nearby areas are still under relentless attack. About a third of the Kharkiv region is still controlled by Russian troops, according to Ukrainian officials.
The fighting and destruction there are “indescribably difficult”, Zelenskyy said. Authorities say more than 2,000 multi-storey buildings were destroyed in the area.
“The destruction is significant, but we have a vision of how to rebuild the area, and we are already working with potential investors to finance housing, public buildings and infrastructure rehabilitation. First, we need to ensure that the park of housing is rebuilt so that people can come back and business can resume,” said Oleh Synyehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration.
The Ukrainian army claims to have launched a counter-offensive in the south aimed at retaking the port city of Kherson.
“There are more and more reports that the occupiers are trying to limit the departure of our people from the temporarily occupied areas of the Kherson region. They do not provide any humanitarian corridors. And they have closed the individual departure of people” , said Zelenskyy. Saturday night.