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Putin cites 'some progress' in talks with Ukraine

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)
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian Security Council via a video link, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 11, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says there has been some progress in talks between Russia and Ukraine, as Moscow's military offensive against its neighboring country enters its third week.

"There are certain positive shifts, negotiators from our side reported to me," Putin told his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, during a televised meeting on Friday, without elaborating.

He said the talks were "now being held on an almost daily basis," adding that he would keep Lukashenko "informed" about the negotiation process.

Putin's remarks came a day after a face-to-face meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in the Turkish resort city of Antalya yielded no results.

Lower-level Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have held several rounds of talks since Moscow launched military strikes in the ex-Soviet republic on February 24. The talks have led to the opening of several humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from combat areas. But both sides have accused each other of blocking those efforts.

Putin announced a "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24. The conflict has provoked a unanimous response from Western countries, which have imposed a long list of sanctions on Moscow.

Russia says it will halt the military operation instantly if Kyiv meets Moscow's list of conditions, including that Ukraine never attempts to join NATO.

The military conflict has so far displaced more than two million people in what the United Nations has described as the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Ukraine claims Russian forces hit psychiatric hospital

Meanwhile, Ukraine has accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum, while emergency services said no one was hurt.

"All 30 staff and 330 patients were in a bomb shelter at the time of the strike," Ukraine's State Emergencies Service said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Oleh Synegubov, the regional governor described the attack as "a war crime against civilians."

There was no immediate comment from Moscow. However, Russia has time and again denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.

The attack near Izyum followed the bombardment of a children's hospital and maternity ward in the besieged port city of Mariupol in which Ukrainian officials claimed three people were killed on Wednesday, including a child. Russia denied having conducted that strike as well.

Military targets were also hit early Friday, with at least four Ukrainian servicemen killed and six injured in Russian strikes on the Lutsk military airport in northwest Ukraine, local officials said. The information was given by Lutsk mayor Igor Polishchuk, updating a previous toll of two deaths.

Earlier, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov announced that Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk airfields had been "put out of action."

Humanitarian corridors a 'bare minimum' necessity in Ukraine: NATO chief

Separately on Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said establishing humanitarian corridors in Ukraine for evacuations and aid was the "bare minimum" to be done now. He added that it had been important for the top Russian and Ukrainian diplomats to meet, as he spoke on the sidelines of a forum in Turkey.

"I continue to believe it is important that we work hard for a political, diplomatic solution," Stoltenberg said. "The bare minimum is to establish humanitarian corridors where people can get out and humanitarian aid can get in."

He also said NATO must not allow Russia's attack on Ukraine to spill over into an open conflict between the alliance and Moscow, warning a no-fly zone would likely lead to a full-scale war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blasted NATO for refusing to set up a "no-fly zone" over Ukraine.

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