Thursday, March 10, 2022
Talks between Russia and Ukraine’s foreign ministers in Turkey on Thursday appear to have ended in failure, with no progress made on establishing a cease-fire or safe passage for civilians trying to flee the besieged city of Mariupol.
The discussions, between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, lasted just 1.5 hours.
When he emerged, Kuleba told a press conference that the talks had been “both easy and difficult.”
“Easy because Minister Lavrov basically followed his traditional narratives about Ukraine, but difficult because I did my best to find a diplomatic solution to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the battle ground and in the besieged cities,” he said.
Kuleba said no progress had been made on Ukraine’s proposal for a 24-hour ceasefire, or on the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to and from Mariupol, both for citizens to flee the city, and for humanitarian aid to enter it.
The minister expressed his dismay that his Russian counterpart had not been in a position to authorize any kind of agreement on a ceasefire, saying “it seems there are other decision makers on this matter, in Russia.”
The discussions came two weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor Ukraine.
Among Russia’s demands are legal assurances that Ukraine will never join the NATO — and have so-called “neutral status” regarding the military alliance.
Ukraine has signalled that it is open to discussing Russia’s demand of neutrality, and is ready for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. However, it has also said that it must be given security guarantees from its allies in the U.S. and NATO, and not just from Russia.
Russia has also demanded that Ukraine acknowledges Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, as Russian territory, and recognizes the independence of the pro-Russian separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region. For its part, Ukraine has said it is not willing to cede any of its territory to Russia.
Speaking ahead of the talks, Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told CNBC they were likely to be “very very difficult, that’s the reality,”
“The two sides are, in my mind, fairly far apart,” he added.
Ash questioned whether the invasion was even about possible Ukrainian membership of NATO for Russia — which did not look likely in the medium-term anyway — adding: “I really don’t think it was.”
“If you go back to 2014, Ukraine got invaded, Crimea annexed, when it [Ukraine] had no ambitions to join NATO and it’s had neutral status and no military capability and it still got invaded,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe. “In the end, Putin still wants Ukraine,” he said.
There are a number of factors behind Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, according to analysts and strategists, but most agree that it is driven largely by his desire to re-assert Russia’s authority over former Soviet states and stop Ukraine’s pivot towards the West.
The talks came as fighting continue to rages across Ukraine, with Russia troops moving in from the north, east and south.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia once again of war crimes on Wednesday following an attack on a children’s hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under near constant attack this week from Russian forces trying to seize the city. The attack took place when there was meant to be a ceasefire.
A number of children and adults are believed to have been wounded in the attack on the hospital. On Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said three people had died in the air strike, including a child.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, calling it “horrific” in a Twitter post.
Russia has been accused of breaking other ceasefires, and criticized for offering humanitarian corridors that would allow Ukrainian citizens to leave the country, but only via routes leading to Russia or its ally Belarus.