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Russia doesn’t budge in high-level talks with Ukraine

Russia is no closer to backing down from its war in Ukraine following a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers in Turkey on Thursday. 

After only a few hours, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba emerged from talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to offer a gloomy assessment. 

The “broad narrative” that Lavrov had conveyed, Kuleba said at a press conference, was that Russia “will continue [its] repression until Ukraine meets their demands.”

And those demands are untenable for Ukraine: full demilitarization, full surrender — essentially full subjugation to Russia.

Lavrov didn’t deny Kuleba’s account in his own press conference. 

“We were never going to be agreeing to a ceasefire,” he said. “Ukraine knows what we want.”

Thursday’s meeting was the highest-level get-together between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow launched its all-out offensive two weeks ago. But, like previous dialogues between lower-level delegations, the discussion produced no discernible progress. 

Kuleba said most of the time was dedicated to “pressing humanitarian issues on the ground” — a vital concern for Ukrainians trying to flee numerous cities surrounded by Russian troops. 

Russia has repeatedly vowed that it would allow local residents to escape via humanitarian corridors, only to continue its shelling during the agreed ceasefire times, according to local authorities and numerous media reports. 

The besieged city of Mariupol has received particular attention in recent days after local authorities called off such evacuation attempts due to ongoing attacks. Then earlier this week, Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, injuring scores of people and killing three, including one child, according to Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack “proof of a genocide.”

When pressed about the maternity hospital attack, Lavrov initially claimed there were no women and children there, and then appeared to contradict himself to say Ukrainian forces were using those at the hospital as human shields. Many videos and photos have emerged of women injured in the attack on the hospital. 

Kuleba said he hoped Lavrov would listen to Ukrainian demands to “help arrange safe passage for them from the besieged cities, first and foremost, from Mariupol, as well as to allow the provision of humanitarian aid.”

The lack of results from the meeting is no surprise. Russia has essentially been demanding full capitulation from Ukraine since the start of the war and has not wavered since. In public, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated the unequivocal stance several times, including while his own team was meeting with a Ukrainian delegation.

Meanwhile, Russian forces have continued to intensify their bombings of numerous Ukrainian cities. Still, Moscow’s troops have remained stalled for days on the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital, as well as outside several other key urban centers.

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