Moscow, Kyiv ‘no progress’ in first high-level talks

Russia and Ukraine on Thursday failed to find a breakthrough on a ceasefire and other humanitarian issues at the first high-level talks between the two sides since Moscow’s invasion.

NO BREAKTHROUGH. A handout picture obtained from the Turkish Foreign Ministry Press Office on March 10, 2022 shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attending Russia-Turkey-Ukraine tripartite Foreign Ministers meeting in Antalya. The two failed to make progress in the ‘difficult’ dialog. AFP

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba met on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in the Turkish resort city of Antalya for three-way talks joined by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Kuleba said “no progress” had been achieved on even a 24-hour ceasefire, expressing frustration that “it seems that there are other decision-makers for this matter in Russia.”

He also repeated his vow that the country will not give in, saying “I want to repeat that Ukraine has not surrendered, does not surrender, and will not surrender.”

He described the meeting as “difficult,” accusing his Russian counterpart of bringing “traditional narratives” about Ukraine to the table.

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He said that he would be ready to meet with Lavrov “again in this format if there are prospects or a substantial discussion and for seeking solutions”.

Russia is ready to continue talks with Ukraine within the framework of the existing format in Belarus, but it is too early to organize a summit meeting between the two countries’ leaders, Lavrov said.

The meeting between Lavrov and Kuleba was the first face-to-face talks after two weeks of war, amid international outrage over Moscow’s bombing of a children’s hospital.

“Today’s meeting has confirmed that the Russian-Ukrainian format in Belarus has no alternative,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia wanted to see concrete results from talks.

“In recent years, after the anti-constitutional coup d’etat, the Ukrainian leadership has preferred meetings for the sake of meetings, preferred to imitate, simulate concrete decisions,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

He said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was not against meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but added that first the two countries’ negotiators should lay the groundwork by conducting talks in Belarus.

“The Ukrainian side has taken our very concrete proposals, and promised us that there would be very concrete answers,” Lavrov said.

“We are waiting,” he added.

A street sign reading the name of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky erected by a supporter on the railings outside the Ukrainian Consulate in Edinburgh on March 10, 2022. AFP

Ukrainian and Russian delegations have held three rounds of talks in Belarus, but the team sent by Russia to those talks is relatively low-ranking, without a minister. The main Russian negotiator is Vladimir Medinsky, a controversial Kremlin aide and former culture minister.

Images of the meeting showed the Russian, Turkish and Ukrainian delegations sitting on each side of a ‘U’ shaped table, with each minister accompanied by just two other officials.

There was no indication that they had shaken hands ahead of the discussions.

The meeting took place against the background of international outrage after an attack on a children’s hospital in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol which, according to Kyiv, killed at least three people, including a young girl.

Kuleba said he wanted to emerge from the meeting with an agreement on a humanitarian corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol but “unfortunately Minister Lavrov was not in a position to commit to it.”

Kuleba said Lavrov “will correspond with respective authorities on this issue.”

Lavrov claimed the hospital was serving as “as a military base for nationalists” from the radical Azov Battalion.

He also accused the European Union and other countries of “dangerously” backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

“We see how dangerously our Western colleagues, including in the European Union, are acting now, which, in violation of all its so-called principles and values, encourages the supply of deadly weapons to Ukraine.”

The Turkey talks are one of a number of diplomatic initiatives underway.

Israel is seeking to broker a solution through direct talks with President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron is also frequently phoning the Kremlin chief.

“There is today a very slim hope and we need to seize it… without being naive,” France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio ahead of the meeting.

“The goal is the same that the fighting stops but we need to put great pressure on Russia,” he added.

Turkey is a traditional ally of Ukraine and has supplied the country with Bayraktar drones – made by a firm whose technology director is Erdogan’s own son-in-law – which Kyiv has deployed in the conflict.

But it is seeking to maintain good relations with Russia, on which Turkey depends heavily for gas imports and tourism revenues.

“We are working to stop this crisis transforming into a tragedy,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding he hoped for a permanent ceasefire.

Erdogan is scheduled to talk on the phone with US President Joe Biden Thursday at 1530 GMT, according to the Turkish presidency.

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