Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says a one-on-one meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin is “the only way to stop this war” as officials from both sides ended a second round of talks.
The Ukrainian delegation successfully sought a humanitarian corridor for refugees during the latest negotiations as the UN reported more than one million people had fled in just seven days, one of the fastest exoduses in memory.
However Vladimir Putin has told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron during a 90-minute call that he intends to go all the way and that his so-called “special military operation” was going according to plan.
In the latest developments in Russia’s advancements, Ukraine’s main port city of Mariupol has been surrounded under heavy bombardment, with no water and power and civilians are trapped by intense shelling.
The city council compared the situation to the World War II siege of Leningrad but officials said they were still in control of the city.
Swathes of central Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people, have been blasted into rubble.
The European Union has agreed to offer temporary protection to Ukraine’s refugees.
Meanwhile Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and leaders of the Quad nations have taken a veiled swipe at China by agreeing the situation in Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific (more below).
Ukraine’s president held a media conference on Friday morning (Australian time) appealing to the west for warplanes and demanding Russia to “leave our land”.
“If you do not have the power to close the skies [enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine], then give me planes,” he said.
“If we are no more then, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next.”
He called on Mr Putin to sit down with him and end the war.
“We are not attacking Russia and we do not plan to attack it. What do you want from us? Leave our land,” he said.
“Sit down with me. Just not 30 metres away like with [French President Emmanuel Macron],” he said, of talks last month.
Mr Zelensky’s appeal came as French sources revealed details of Mr Macron’s phone conversation initiated by Mr Putin and warned “the worst is yet to come”.
“This conversation is unfortunately an occasion to hear that President Putin will continue military interventions and to go all the way,” according to the Élysée Palace source.
“Without making a prediction, we should expect the worst is yet to come. The (French) president said so yesterday as well. There is nothing in what Putin said today that should reassure us,” the source said.
Mr Macron told Mr Putin he was making a “major mistake” in Ukraine, that he was deluding himself about the government in Kyiv and that the war would cost Russia dearly over the long term.
“There was nothing in what President Putin said that could reassure us,” said the adviser.
“‘You are lying to yourself’,” Mr Macron told Mr Putin, the official said.
“‘It will cost your country dearly, your country will end up isolated, weakened and under sanctions for a very long time’.”
Mr Putin said his “special military operation” — otherwise known as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — was “going according to plan”.
His claim comes despite many analysts suggesting the invasion has not gone to plan.
In a televised speech, he accused Ukrainian forces of taking “thousands of foreign citizens hostage” and using civilians as “human shields” — he provided no evidence for these claims.
He added that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people” and said he would “destroy this ‘anti-Russia’ created by the West”.
Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed since Mr Putin sent his troops over the border on February 24.
Russia itself has been plunged into isolation never before experienced by an economy of such size and in the latest move its athletes and those of its abetter Belarus have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games (more below).
A Ukrainian negotiator said the second round of ceasefire talks with Russia resulted in an understanding on creating humanitarian corridors in the areas of Ukraine where fighting was worst.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the two sides envisaged a possible temporary ceasefire to allow civilians to leave.
“That is, not everywhere, but only in those places where the humanitarian corridors themselves will be located, it will be possible to cease fire for the duration of the evacuation,” he said.
They had also reached an understanding on the delivery of medicines and food to the places where the fiercest fighting was taking place.
It was the first time the two sides had agreed any form of progress on any issue since Russia invaded Ukraine a week ago.
But Mr Podolyak said the outcome had fallen short of Ukraine’s hopes.
“To our great regret, we did not get the results we were counting on,” he said, without elaborating.
“The only thing I can say is that we discussed the humanitarian aspect in sufficient detail, because quite a lot of cities are now surrounded.
“There is a dramatic situation with medicines, food, and evacuation,” Mr Podolyak said.
A third round of ceasefire talks between the two sides is due to take place early next week, Belarusian state news agency Belta quoted Mr Podolyak as saying on Thursday while Russian negotiators said more talks will likely be held shortly.
Russia and Belarus Paralympic teams banned
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been banned from the Winter Paralympics, in a stunning backflip from the International Paralympic Committee after multiple teams and athletes threatened to boycott the Beijing Games.
The IPC backed down on Wednesday evening’s decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes, without their colours, flags and other national symbols, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was supported by Belarus.
It cited threats from National Paralympic Committees, teams and athletes not to compete, saying such a boycott would jeopardise the Games’ viability.
It also noted escalating animosity in the athletes’ village meant “ensuring the safety of athletes (if Russian and Belarusian athletes remained) has become untenable”.
“In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said in a statement.
“They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
“Multiple NPCs, some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams and athletes, are threatening not to compete.
“Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable.”
Mr Parsons said in a later press conference there weren’t any specific reported incidents of “aggression” or confrontations but the athletes’ village was becoming a “volatile” environment.
“The temperature in the village was escalating and really, really fast. Before that happens, we want to take action,” he said.
Quad nations want peace in Indo-Pacific
Leaders of the Quad grouping of countries — the United States, India, Australia and Japan — have agreed that what is happening to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says.
A virtual meeting of the four-country grouping was held at a time of increased concern about Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China, which has stepped up its alert level, wary of China taking advantage of distracted world powers to move against it.
“We’ve agreed that unilateral changes to the status quo with force like this should not be allowed in the Indo-Pacific region,” Mr Kishida said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We’ve also agreed this development makes it even more important to work toward realising a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Mr Kishida told reporters after the meeting with US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for Indo-Pacific, said on Monday the United States would keep its focus on the Indo-Pacific despite the Ukraine crisis, although this would be difficult and expensive.
He said the US has been deeply engaged in two theatres simultaneously before, including during World War II and the Cold War.
The United States sees the Quad and its growing relations with India as essential to its efforts to push back against China in the Pacific but it is in a delicate balancing act with India, given the latter’s long-standing ties with Russia.
Of the four Quad countries, only India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is the main supplier of arms to the Indian military and India faces the possibility of US sanctions for its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.
Analysts say any moves by Russia hawks in Mr Biden’s administration to impose sanctions on India for working with Russia could backfire and set back co-operation in the Quad.
India’s foreign ministry said before Thursday’s meeting that it would follow a September summit of the Quad leaders in Washington DC and they would “exchange views and assessments about important developments in the Indo-Pacific”.
It was not immediately clear on whose request the meeting was called.
None of the Quad countries had flagged it earlier.
Quad foreign ministers met in Australia early last month and pledged to deepen co-operation to ensure the region was free from “coercion,” a veiled reference to China’s economic and military activities, and their leaders are set to hold a summit in Japan in May.
China has denounced the Quad as a Cold War construct and a clique “targeting other countries”.