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Ukraine: Russia must retreat to pre-war positions to negotiate

KYIV, Ukraine –

Ukraine’s president said on Wednesday that Russia must return to its pre-war position as a first step before launching diplomatic talks, a line of negotiations that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he currently does not see Russia ready to resume stalled talks on ending the three-month war.

Speaking by video link to attendees of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy expressed readiness to negotiate directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but stressed that Moscow also needed to make it clear. that they were ready “to move from bloody war to diplomacy.”

“It could happen if Russia shows at least something,” he said. “When I say at least something, I mean pull troops back to their positions by February 24,” he said. Russian invasion, he said. “I believe it will be a step in the right direction for Russia.”

Zelenskyy also made it clear that Ukraine wants to drive Russian troops out of all the areas it has captured.

“Ukraine will fight until it regains all its territories,” he said. “It’s about our independence and our sovereignty.

Zelenskyy added that Russia, which has gradually narrowed its military goals in Ukraine amid fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces, may have to wait.

At least six civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling of a town at the center of the fighting, a regional governor in eastern Ukraine said.

Luhansk Region Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Wednesday that eight other people had been wounded in shelling on Sievierodonetsk in the past 24 hours. He accused the Russian military of deliberately targeting civilian shelters.

The town is located in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas industrial hub, where Russian forces are waging an offensive despite stiff Ukrainian resistance.

Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold vast territories. Sievierodonetsk and its surrounding cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under the control of the Ukrainian government.

The head of the Donetsk regional military government, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said that two rockets hit the town of Pokrovsk early on Wednesday morning, injuring four civilians, who are being treated in hospitals.

One strike left a crater at least three meters (10 feet) deep, with the remnants of what appeared to be a rocket still smoldering. A low row of terraced houses near the strike suffered significant damage, roof tiles blown off, door frames ripped from walls and concrete strewn all around.

“There was no place to live, everything was demolished,” said Viktoria Kurbonova, a mother of two living in one of the terraced houses. The windows had been blown off by a strike about a month before, and they had replaced them with plastic sheeting. That probably saved their lives, she said, because at least there weren’t any shards of glass flying around.

Zelenskyy acknowledged late on Tuesday that his country’s forces in the region faced a difficult situation.

“In fact, the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown into the attack there,” he said in his nightly address to the nation. “Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

In another sign that Moscow is trying to bolster its tense military apparatus in Ukraine, Russian lawmakers have passed a bill to remove the 40-year age limit for those who sign military contracts. first wish.

The chairman of the parliament’s defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said the measure would make it easier to hire people with “in-demand expertise”. The bill’s description on the congressional website indicates that older recruits may be suitable to operate precision weapons or serve in technical or medical roles.

Russian authorities say only volunteer contract soldiers are sent to fight in Ukraine, although they admit that some conscripts were drawn into the fighting by mistake during the period. head.

In addition, President Putin issued an order allowing the rapid grant of Russian citizenship to people in two southern regions of Ukraine, which are largely held by Russian forces.

Putin’s decree, on Wednesday, could allow Russia to increase its control over the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. They form part of the land connection between eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin last week visited both regions and said they could become part of “our Russian family.” A Russian-installed official in the Kherson region predicted the area could become part of Russia.

Russia already has a rapid naturalization program for people living in two regions of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists.

Meanwhile, British military experts said that the solution to bring wheat out of Ukraine for export seems unlikely.

Ukraine’s overland export routes are “very unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa, putting further pressure on global grain prices, British Ministry of Defense said.

In an update posted Wednesday morning, it noted that there had been no “significant” shipping merchants to or from Odesa since the start of the Russian invasion.

The ministry said that the blockade, combined with the lack of overland transport routes, meant that substantial supplies of grain remained in storage and could not be exported.

Russia says Ukraine’s strategic port of Mariupol has reopened after three months of fighting.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the army had completed demining at the port and it was fully operational.

Russian forces have taken full control of Mariupol, over the Sea of ​​Azov, after the last Ukrainian defenders at the giant Azovstal seaside steel plant laid down their weapons.

Konashenkov said the Russian military also used long-range air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy the production facilities of Ukraine’s key aircraft engine manufacturer, Motor Sich, in Zaporizhzhia.

The company specializes in the production of helicopter engines, which were also used to power Russian helicopters before supplies were halted after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.


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Elena Becatoros reports from Pokrovsk


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