Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow, as the Russian invasion entered its 24th day taking a heavy toll on civilians, while several rounds of talks have yielded no breakthrough.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine had always offered solutions for peace and wanted meaningful and honest negotiations on peace and security, without delay, adding that Moscow would otherwise need generations to recover from losses suffered during the war.
“I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk,” he said in a video address released in the early hours of Saturday.
“The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover.”
Russia has been slapped with crippling economic sanctions by the West, with multinational corporations pulling out of the country over the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s economy is in dire straits with its currency, the rouble, plunging to record lows and billions of dollars of its foreign reserves unavailable after it was cut off from the international financial transfer system.
The two sides have been involved in talks for weeks with no sign of a breakthrough.
The call for talks comes as Russia’s offensive remains largely stalled, with Moscow’s troops facing heavy resistance in Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv. Russia has also been accused of increasingly launching indiscriminate air and long-range strikes.
Zelenskyy also accused Russian forces of deliberately blocking the supply of humanitarian supplies to cities under attack.
“This is a deliberate tactic … This is a war crime and they will answer for it, 100 percent,” he said.
Zelenskyy said there was no information about how many people had died after a theatre in the city of Mariupol, where hundreds of people had been sheltering, was struck on Wednesday. More than 130 people had been rescued so far, he said.
Russians in Mariupol
Meanwhile, Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday that the army and its separatist allies had made a breakthrough in Mariupol, which has been under Russian shelling for days, and were now inside the city.
“In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People’s Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city centre,” the ministry said.
The mayor of the city confirmed to the BBC that gun battles had reached the heart of Mariupol.
On Friday rescuers were still searching for hundreds of people trapped under the wreckage of the bombed theatre.
At the time of the attack, Mariupol’s city council said that more than 1,000 people were sheltering in the theatre’s basement when it was hit on Wednesday.
China does not condemn Moscow
With world powers manoeuvring to respond to the bloody three-week invasion, Washington said that President Joe Biden had warned Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of the “consequences” of any support for Russia.
The United States fears that China could deliver financial and military aid to Moscow, transforming an already explosive transatlantic standoff into a global confrontation.
In the nearly two-hour phone call, Xi said that war is “in no one’s interest”, but showed no sign of giving in to US pressure to join Western condemnation of Russia.
However, Moscow’s diplomatic isolation deepened as Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats, following in the steps of Bulgaria.
The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other top global lenders warned on Friday that the “devastating human catastrophe” unfolding in Ukraine risks “extensive” economic fallout around the globe.
Historically, Ukraine has been a grain-exporting breadbasket for the world.