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West seeks to derail Russia-Ukraine talks with war crimes 'hysteria:' Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following talks with President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer in Moscow, Russia, on March 24, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the West of seeking to sabotage negotiations between Russia and Ukraine by fueling "hysteria" over the alleged mass killing of civilians by Russian forces in the town of Bucha, warning that the peace process could collapse if such attempts continued.

Lavrov made the remarks in a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, as Kiev and the West accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of people in the Ukrainian town, citing footage that shows bodies strewn across the streets as evidence.

"We are inclined to think the reason is a desire to find a pretext to break off the negotiations that are being conducted," he said, saying that the accusations came just after the two sides made "progress" in their negotiations in Turkey last week.

The top Russian official further said that Ukraine had "tried to break off the negotiating process altogether" after Western media published the war crimes allegations.

"For us to have real progress, not the illusion of it, we insist that an unambiguous signal be sent to Kiev not to sabotage the process," he said. "Otherwise, we risk repeating the fate of the Minsk agreements, and we will never agree to this."

Lavrov has already said Ukraine's account of what happened in Bucha is a "fake" and aims to undermine Moscow, reiterating that Russian forces were not involved in any act of killing civilians once they were in control of Bucha.

In a video message on Saturday, the mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, claimed that 300 people had been killed by the Russian army, with some appearing to have been bound by their hands and feet before being shot. He also presented footage and photographs showing the dead bodies of those allegedly killed or executed by Russian troops, claiming that 280 bodies had been buried in mass graves while nearly 10 others had been either not buried or only partially covered by earth.

Kiev has urged major Western powers, including the United States, to impose new crippling sanctions on Moscow over the "massacre" in Bucha.

Russia has denied the allegations.

Moscow has twice requested an urgent session of the United Nations Security Council over the Bucha situation, but the United Kingdom has refused to hold the meeting both times.

Ukraine-Russia talks the only option to end war: Zelensky

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that negotiating with Russia is the only option left to end the ongoing conflict in the former Soviet country.

"All of us, including myself, will perceive even the possibility of negotiations as a challenge," Zelensky said in an interview with Ukrainian journalists broadcast on national television. "The challenge is internal, first of all, one's own, human challenge. Then, when you pull yourself together, and you have to do it, I think that we have no other choice," he added.

Zelensky further said the events in Bucha were unforgivable but Ukraine and Russia should take the difficult option of pursuing talks, after accusing Russian troops of carrying out "genocide" in the newly-liberated town, which lies 37 kilometers northwest of the capital.

Asked whether he and Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold direct talks, Zelensky said it was possible this would not happen without giving further details.

Putin announced a military offensive against 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 operation instantly if Kiev meets Moscow’s list of demands, including never applying to join NATO.

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