KYIV: Russian and Ukrainian negotiators are to sit down for a fresh round of talks next week in an attempt to end the war in Ukraine that the UN estimates has killed at least 1,100 civilians and sent more than 3.8 million fleeing to other countries.
Kyiv said the negotiations would start on Monday in Turkey, while Russia’s lead negotiator said they would begin on Tuesday without confirming the location.
The prospect of fresh talks comes after the Russian army said last week that it would focus on eastern Ukraine, which some interpreted as a scaling back of Russian objections, although US President Joe Biden cast doubt on a strategy change.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday warned against an escalation “in words and action”, after Biden on Saturday branded Russian President Vladimir Putin a “butcher” who “cannot remain in power”.
The Kremlin reacted in fury to Biden’s comments, saying it narrowed the window for bilateral relations, with the West and Moscow already at loggerheads over crushing sanctions imposed against Russia for invading Ukraine on Feb 24.
Rounds of diplomatic efforts and the sanctions have so far failed to get Putin to halt his war, despite the Russians appearing to run into tactical and logistical problems.
Ukraine’s intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said Putin might be considering a Korean scenario, by seeking to “impose a separation line between the occupied and unoccupied regions of our country”.
“After a failure to capture Kyiv and remove Ukraine’s government, Putin is changing his main operational directions. These are south and east,” he wrote on Facebook.
“In fact, it will be an attempt to set up South and North Koreas in Ukraine,” Budanov added.
Russia may try to establish a quasi-state of occupied zones with its own currency, he assessed, but he vowed that Ukrainian counter-offensive will foil those plans.
Russia has de facto control over the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics in the country’s eastern Donbas region. The head of Ukraine’s Lugansk separatist region said it may hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia — a move immediately slammed by Kyiv.
Russian troops have also been besieging Mariupol as taking the strategic port city would give Moscow an unbroken control stretching from the Donbas to the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.
Mariupol residents have recounted harrowing scenes of destruction and death.
Ukraine was making a new push to get civilians out of the city on Sunday, with an aid route agreement for people to leave by cars or on evacuation buses, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2022