Talks between Russia and Ukraine to resume after deadly attack on military base

Diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine have stepped up, with Ukrainian and Russian negotiators set to resume talks, after Russia attacked a base near the Polish border and fighting raged across the country.

A barrage of Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Yavoriv International Centre for Peacekeeping and Security, a base just 15 miles (25 km) from the Polish border that has previously hosted Nato military instructors, killing 35 people and wounding 134, a Ukrainian official said on Sunday.

On Monday morning the violence continued, with shelling of a residential building in the capital killing two.

But hopes of diplomatic progress were raised after Russia and Ukraine gave positive assessments after weekend negotiations.

“Russia is already beginning to talk constructively,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said in a video online. “I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days.”

A Russian delegate to the talks, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying they had made significant progress and it was possible the delegations could soon reach draft agreements. Neither side said what these would cover. Three rounds of talks between the two sides in Belarus, most recently last Monday, had focused mainly on humanitarian issues.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the countries’ delegations have been speaking daily by video link and a clear aim of his negotiators was to “do everything” to arrange for him to meet Putin. “We must hold on. We must fight. And we will win,” Zelenskiy said in a late night video speech. Putin said on Friday there had been some “positive shifts” in the talks but did not elaborate.

The talks come after the UK said Russian naval forces had blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and cut the country off from maritime trade.

In an update late Sunday, the UK defence ministry said the “distant blockade” by Russia’s navy had effectively isolated Ukraine from maritime trade and forces continued missile strikes on targets across the country.

The ministry also noted that Russia had conducted one amphibious landing in the Sea of Azov and “could look to conduct further such operations in the coming weeks.”

The escalation of the conflict to effectively block maritime trade from Ukraine comes as countries stepped up efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the devastating conflict.

Closely watched talks will also be held on Monday between the US and China, as concerns grow over the possibility of Beijing providing support to Putin’s war effort.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, will meet his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in Rome amid reports that Russia has asked China for weapons to bolster its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the US embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, told CNN he had “never heard” of the Russian arms requests, noting that China’s priority was to ensure the situation does not escalate or get out of control.

The US will try to persuade China not to supply arms to Russia at the talks which the White House sees as critically important not just for the war in Ukraine but also for the future of the global balance of power.

US president Joe Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron underscored in a call on Sunday their commitment to holding Russia accountable for the invasion of Ukraine, the White House said in a statement. Also on Sunday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, discussed diplomatic efforts to stop Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

In other developments:

Ramzan Kadyrov , the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, is reportedly in Ukraine alongside Russian forces, according to footage shared by Chechen television channels and posted to Kadyrov’s Telegram account.

Instagram was reportedly down inside Russia after Russia’s state media and communication regulator, Rozcomnadzor, said the platform would be banned on Sunday night , citing the social networking site “calls for violence against Russians” as the reason behind the embargo.

A pregnant woman who had been rescued from the bombed Mariupol maternity hospital died, as did her baby, according to AP.

The flurry of diplomacy comes as Russia drew warnings from Nato on Sunday after it escalated its war in Ukraine with strikes on a major military base close to the alliance’s border, killing at least 35 people and injuring 134 more, while a US journalist was killed by Russian forces in a town outside Kyiv.

The airstrikes on the Yavoriv base in the far-west of Ukraine came hours after the Kremlin, which said western military equipment destined for Ukrainian forces was being stored at the facility, had described western supply lines into Ukraine as “legitimate targets”.

A Russian military spokesperson claimed that up to 180 “foreign mercenaries and a large consignment of foreign weapons” were destroyed in the attack.

Britain said the incident marked a “significant escalation” of the conflict and the proximity of the attack to Poland’s border, less than 10 miles away, prompted the US to warn that any fire, even accidental, on a neighbouring Nato country would trigger a full-force Nato response.

Sullivan said the US was consulting allies and in contact with the Kremlin directly to warn against the use of chemical weapons amid fears that Russia may be preparing the ground for the use of them.

Describing the bombing of the Yavoriv International Centre for Peacekeeping and Security, Stepan Chuma, 27, an emergency worker who had hurried to the scene with his colleagues, said: “My windows shook. The whole house vibrated. It was dark. The sky lit up with two explosions.”

The attack prompted Zelenskiy, to repeat his pleas for Nato to impose a no-fly zone, and he warned the alliance that it was at risk. “If you don’t close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian rockets fall on your territory, on Nato territory,” he said in a video address late last night.

The Yavoriv facility hit by Russia on Sunday has previously hosted foreign military trainers from the UK, US and other countries, but it was not clear whether any were at the base. Ukraine held most of its drills with Nato countries there before the invasion, with the last major exercises in September. Nato denied it had any personnel in Ukraine and the Pentagon said its last people had left weeks ago.

The attack is thought to be the westernmost carried out by Russia in 18 days of fighting.

With Reuters

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