The first round of peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine have ended in a Belarusian border area and they will go back to their respective capitals “for consultations” before holding an expected second round, a Ukrainian official says.
According to RIA news agency, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak made the announcement on Monday, after the two sides held the first round of peace negotiations since Russia commenced a full-scale military operation in Ukraine last week.
The high-ranking Ukrainian delegation arrived at the Belarusian border region of Gomel, near the Chernobyl exclusion zone, for talks with Russian representatives aimed at a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces, the Ukrainian presidency said earlier in the day. It added that the delegation included Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Podolyak among other officials.
The Ukrainian military claims Russian forces have slowed the pace of their military operation in the country as the offensive entered its fifth day on Monday. It further accused Russia of launching a missile strike on residential buildings in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernigiv in the country's northwest and north.
Russian forces are reportedly advancing towards Kiev and seizing control of a number of towns and cities along the way. Authorities in Moscow have denied the claims made by Ukrainian and Western officials of civilian areas being targeted by the Russian military.
On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine’s Donbass region to “defend people” subjected to "genocide" by government forces, stressing that Moscow has “no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory.”
European countries and Canada on Monday moved to close their airspace to Russian airplanes in an unprecedented move aimed at pressuring Moscow to end its military operation in Ukraine. The United States is yet to make a final decision on shutting its airspace to Russian airliners but is expected to follow suit.
Furthermore, Western governments have prepared new sanctions against Moscow, including banishing key Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects financial institutions around the world.
Russia will live through Western sanctions: Moscow
Separately on Monday, Moscow said Russia could ride out the Western sanctions. “The Western sanctions on Russia are hard, but our country has the necessary potential to compensate the damage,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a press conference in Moscow. “The economic reality has significantly changed, let’s put it this way.” He noted that Russia had taken steps to prepare for it, saying that “today Putin will be working on economic questions” and meeting key ministers.
“Russia has been systematically preparing for quite a long time for possible sanctions, including the heaviest sanctions that we are now facing,” Peskov further said on Monday, a day after the Russian president ordered the country’s nuclear forces onto high alert.
The West’s severe financial punishment against Russia has sent the ruble into a tailspin, prompting the Russian central bank to more than double its main interest rate to 20 percent in a bid to prop it up.
When asked whether Moscow was satisfied with the results of its military operation in Ukraine, Peskov said, “I don’t think now is the time to talk about any results of the operation or its effectiveness. You need to wait for its completion.”
Kiev officially requests to swiftly join EU
Earlier on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had signed an official request for “immediate” EU membership for Ukraine. He has asked the European bloc to allow his country to gain membership right away under a special procedure.
“We appeal to the European Union for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure,” the 44-year-old president said in a new video address. “Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing. I'm sure it's fair. I'm sure it's possible.”