Russian and Ukrainian officials are set to hold a new round of talks as Moscow’s invading forces show no sign of easing their onslaught across Ukraine, edging closer to the capital, Kyiv, and maintaining their relentless bombardment of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol.
The two sides’ representatives will meet via videoconference on Monday, a Ukrainian presidential adviser and a Kremlin spokesman said. According to Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, the talks will begin at 08:20 GMT.
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“Our goal is that in this struggle, in this difficult negotiating work, Ukraine will get the necessary result … for peace and for security,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said early on Monday, adding that both sides speak every day.
He said the aim was “to do everything to ensure a meeting of presidents. A meeting that I am sure people are waiting for”.
Meanwhile, Leonid Slutsky, a senior member of Russia’s negotiating team, told state-run television network RT on Sunday that the Russian side saw “significant progress”.
Russian air raids on Sunday hit a Ukrainian military training ground near the border with Poland, a NATO member. Ukrainian officials said at least 35 people were killed and more than 130 wounded in the attack, while Russia’s defence ministry said up to 180 foreign fighters were killed. The statements could not be independently verified.
Separately, US journalist Brent Renaud was killed on Sunday as fighting escalated in Kyiv’s suburbs – the first foreign reporter to die since Russia’s invasion on February 24. The award-winning video and documentary maker was shot dead, while a US photojournalist with him, Juan Arredondo, was wounded in Irpin, medics and witnesses said.
Zelenskyy on Monday renewed his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone following the attack that took place near the western city of Lviv.
“If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory, on NATO territory, on the homes of NATO citizens,” Zelenskyy warned in a video address.
The United States and its European Union allies have sent funds and military aid to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia. But Washington has ruled out any direct intervention, with President Joe Biden warning that NATO fighting Russia “is World War III”.
Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday and the two leaders “underscored their commitment to hold Russia accountable for its actions and support the government and people of Ukraine”, the White House said.
Black Sea blockade
In its latest intelligence update on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said Russia had established a naval blockade on the Black Sea coast, “effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade”.
“Russian naval forces are also continuing to conduct missile strikes against targets throughout Ukraine,” it said.
But in a sign Moscow may have underestimated the challenge it would face, US officials told media, Russia had asked China for military and economic aid for the war.
Moscow also asked Beijing for economic assistance against the crippling sanctions imposed against it, The New York Times said, citing anonymous officials.
When asked about the alleged requests, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC told multiple outlets: “I’ve never heard of that.”
The reports came hours after the White House said NSA Jake Sullivan would meet top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday.
US diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly asking for military help could be a “defining moment” for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“To do so means China would open itself to substantial sanctions and make itself a pariah; to refuse would keep open the possibility of at least selective cooperation with US and West,” he tweeted.
Beijing has declined to directly condemn Moscow’s invasion, and has repeatedly blamed NATO’s “eastward expansion” for worsening tensions between Russia and Ukraine, echoing the Kremlin’s prime security grievance.
Meanwhile, efforts continued to get help to the devastated southern city of Mariupol, which aid agencies say is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.
A humanitarian column headed there had to turn back again on Sunday, a city official told the AFP news agency, after the Russians “did not stop firing”. It is expected to try again on Monday.
A total of 2,187 residents have now died in days of relentless Russian bombardment, the city council said on Sunday.
“The enemy is holding the city hostage by performing real acts of genocide,” said Ukraine Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said suffering in Mariupol was “simply immense” and that hundreds of thousands of people faced extreme shortages of food, water and medicine.
“Dead bodies, of civilians and combatants, remain trapped under the rubble or lying in the open where they fell,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “Life-changing injuries and chronic, debilitating conditions cannot be treated.”
The United Nations has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths, though it believes the true toll is much higher.