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‘Substantial progress’ made in talks with Ukraine: Russian delegate

Leonid Slutsky, a member of the State Duma of Russia and a delegate to the Russia-Ukraine peace talks

Russia and Ukraine have made “substantial progress” in negotiations to resolve the ongoing conflict, says a member of the State Duma and a delegate to the Russian-Ukrainian peace talks.

Leonid Slutsky said there was the possibility for the two sides to come up with draft peace agreements, RIA news agency reported on Sunday. He did not clarify what matters of contention the potential agreements would cover.

The Russian official was comparing the current state of the negotiations with the time they commenced, 18 into Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

“According to my personal expectations, this progress may grow in the coming days into a joint position of both delegations, into documents for signing,” Slutsky said.

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

Kiev has already said it is willing to negotiate, but not to surrender or accept any ultimatums.

Russia is being more constructive: Ukrainian delegate

Separately on Sunday, Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the Russian side had become more constructive in the peace talks. He said further progress could be expected in the coming days.

“We will not concede in principle on any positions. Russia now understands this. Russia is already beginning to talk constructively. I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days,” the Ukrainian official said in a video posted online.

The Russian and Ukrainian delegations have so far held three rounds of talks in Belarus, most recently on March 7, focusing mainly on humanitarian issues. The talks have led to the limited opening of a number of humanitarian corridors for civilians to escape the fighting zones.

On March 11, Putin said there had been some “positive shifts” in the talks, but did not give details. A day later, the Kremlin announced that the talks had been continuing “in video format.”

Over 2,180 residents killed since operation began: Mariupol city council

In a statement on Sunday, the city council of Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol alleged that 2,187 city residents had been killed since February 24. “In (the last) 24 hours, there were at least 22 bombings of the civilian city. Over 100 bombs have been thrown on Mariupol already,” it said in its online statement.

American journo killed in Ukraine: Police

According to the Kiev regional police chief Andriy Nyebytov on Sunday, an American journalist was shot dead allegedly by Russian forces in the town of Irpin in the Kiev region. Nyebytov did not give details of the incident. “Another journalist was wounded. We are currently trying to take the victim out of the combat zone,” he said in a statement, without identifying the wounded journalist.

Nyebytov had initially said the killed journalist worked for the New York Times, which said in a statement that the journo had previously worked for the American newspaper but was not currently on the payroll. The Times identified the journalist as Brent Renaud.  

“We are deeply saddened to hear of Brent Renaud's death. Brent was a talented photographer and filmmaker who had contributed to The New York Times over the years,” the Times said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Though he [Brent Renaud] had contributed to The Times in the past (most recently in 2015), he was not on assignment for any desk at The Times in Ukraine.”

“Early reports that he worked for Times circulated because he was wearing a Times press badge that had been issued for an assignment many years ago.”

Sanctions have frozen about $300bn of Russian reserves: Moscow

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, in an interview with state TV aired on Sunday, said the foreign sanctions on Russia had frozen some $300 billion out of $640 billion that Russia had in its gold and forex reserves.

The West has been piling on sanctions against Moscow, and accusing it of not sparing civilians. The United States, particularly, has imposed harsh economic and banking sanctions on Russia under the current circumstances.

According to Siluanov, the West was exerting pressure on China to restrict its trade with Russia in order to impede the Kremlin’s access to the part of state reserves that Russia keeps in the Chinese yuan.

“But I think that our partnership with China will still allow us to maintain the cooperation that we have achieved, and not only maintain, but also increase it in an environment where Western markets are closed,” the Russian minister said.

Siluanov, as cited by RIA state news agency, said Russia would fulfill its state debt obligations and would pay rubles to its debt holders until the state reserves were unfrozen.

35 killed in airstrikes on base in Ukraine’s Lviv: Governor

The governor of Lviv region Maxim Kozitsky said in a statement on Sunday that ‘airstrikes by Russian warplanes’ had killed 35 people at a military base outside the western city, updating the toll from nine previously.

“I have to announce that, unfortunately, we have lost more heroes: 35 people died as a result of the shelling of the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre.”

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