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Ukraine pres. says no to talks with Russia in Belarus, agrees to talks ‘without preconditions’ on Belarusian border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ukrainian soldiers stand past a burnt Ukrainian army vehicle on the west side of the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev on February 26, 2022. (File photo by AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has agreed to talks on the Belarusian border “without preconditions” after initially rejecting Russia’s offer of negotiations in Belarus due to what he called Minsk’s impartiality in the military conflict.

Zelenskiy initially said on Sunday that it would have been possible to talk in Minsk if hostile actions have not come from Belarus.

“Four days ago, cruise missiles, jets, helicopters, (military) vehicles came from the Belarusian territory,” he said, adding, “When you were neutral, we talked in Minsk, we met many times. And this is the right thing to do, it’s true, it’s how we should talk – as neighbors. But right now you have not made your most important choice, and it must depend on you. Not on Russia, not on Ukraine, not on the US, but on Belarusian people.”

Earlier, Kremlin had said its delegation was ready to meet Ukrainian officials in the Belarusian city of Gomel.

The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian delegation included officials from the foreign and defense ministries as well as President Putin’s office.

Rejecting the offer, Zelenskiy said other cities can be the place for talks, which he said should ultimately lead to peace and ending the war.

“Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Baku – we have offered all of them to Russia. And we agree on any other city – in a country missiles are not going from. This is the only way the talks can be honest and lead to the end of the war,” he said.

Putin: Ukraine wasting opportunity for talks

Putin then blamed Ukrainian authorities for wasting “an opportunity” to hold talks, noting that the Russian delegation is in Gomel to hold direct talks with Ukrainian diplomats, AFP reported.

According to the Kremlin, Putin made the remarks in a phone conversation with Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, on Sunday, when the Russian president said Ukrainian authorities “have not yet taken advantage of this opportunity” and were “showing inconsistency.”

Bennett also proposed that Israel act as a mediator between the two warring countries, a day after Zelensky reportedly asked the regime in Tel Aviv to play such a role.

Zelensky: Ukraine, Russia agree to talks without preconditions

Zelensky announced later on Sunday that Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet for talks at a venue on the Belarusian border with Ukraine.

He said the talks, the first since the military conflict broke out on Thursday, would be held without preconditions and are the result of a phone call between him and his Belarusian counterpart.

“We agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River,” he said in a statement.

German chancellor says still open for talks with Russia

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that he was still open for talks with Russia even in “this extreme situation.

“We will not refuse to engage in talks with Russia. Even in this extreme situation, it is the task of diplomacy to keep channels of communication open,” he told a special parliamentary sitting.

“Anything else would be irresponsible,” he added.

Italy, Spain, Netherlands closing airspace to Russia

Joining other European countries in increasing pressure on Moscow, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands said on Sunday that they were closing their airspace to Russia.

“Italy is closing its airspace to Russia,” an Italian government spokesman said in a statement, shortly after other European countries such as Germany, Belgian, and Luxembourg announced similar measures.

The Netherlands’ infrastructure minister said the country will close its airspace to Russian aircraft from Sunday evening.

“There is no room in Dutch airspace for a regime that applies unnecessary and brutal violence,” Mark Harbers said via Twitter, adding, “The Netherlands is therefore preparing to close its airspace to Russian aircraft this evening.”

Spain also said it was closing its airspace to Russian carriers, following similar moves by several European nations.

"Spain will proceed to close its airspace to Russian airlines," the transport ministry said on Twitter, adding that it was following the "cooperation guidelines set by the European Union." 

UK FM: Serious consequences awaiting Putin

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that the Russia-Ukraine conflict could last a “number of years” and that the world needs to be prepared for Moscow to “seek to use even worse weapons.”

“I fear this will be a long haul, this could be a number of years,” Truss told Sky News.

Russia has “strong forces and we know the Ukrainians are brave, they are determined to stand up for their sovereignty and territorial integrity and they are determined to fight,” she said.

The British foreign secretary warned that President Putin could use “the most unsavory means” in the conflict as “this could well be the beginning [of] the end for Putin.”

“I fear this conflict could be very, very bloody. We do need to be prepared for Russia to seek to use even worse weapons,” she added.

She then warned President Putin to be aware that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is watching the conflict closely and that there will be “serious consequences for him personally.”

Ukraine files case against Russia at ICJ

Meanwhile, Zelensky said his country has lodged a complaint against Russia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to compel it to halt the military conflict.

“Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression,” Zelensky stated in a tweet.

“We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week,” he added.

Over 368,000 fled Ukraine: UN

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Sunday that more than 368,000 people had fled Ukraine since the conflict broke out.

“The current total is now 368,000 and continues to rise,” UNHCR said in a tweet, adding the new figure was based on “data made available by national authorities.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also explained the refugees have crossed over into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and other countries.

“The governments and people of those countries are welcoming refugees. It is now urgent to share this responsibility in concrete ways,” Grandi tweeted.

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