Moscow has accused Western powers of not allowing Ukraine to resume peace negotiations with Russia.
During an interview with the Belarusian National State Radio on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed skepticism about a possible return of Ukraine to the peace talks, accusing the “the Anglo-Saxons” (the US and the UK) of preventing Kiev from doing so.
“Currently, I do not see any possibility for Ukraine to propose [negotiations], we are not going to propose anything. We proposed everything a long time ago. The ball is on their court. I don't see any possibility that [the Ukrainians] will be allowed to return to negotiations,” Lavrov said.
Earlier, an aide to the Russian president and chief negotiator with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, said Kiev paused the talks with Moscow, after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin slipped into Ukraine for talks with officials there in April.
Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since late February, days after Russia started what it called a "special military operation" in Ukraine, but the negotiations stalled in mid-May with the two sides accusing each other of withdrawing from the talks.
Russian officials have stressed that they will only stop the military campaign if Kiev accepts their main conditions, including recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, demilitarization of the Ukrainian state, Ukraine’s neutral status and renunciation of its desire to join NATO.
Russian forces take control of Hirske town
Russian forces took control of a town south of the strategically important city of Lysychansk in the eastern Luhansk region on Friday, as Moscow reported that it had surrounded about 2,000 Ukrainian forces, including 80 foreign fighters in the area.
Lysychansk is the last major Ukrainian-controlled city in Luhansk, and capturing it means that Russia would be able to take full control of the entire Luhansk, a mainly Russian-speaking region in east Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, as of today... the entire Hirske district is occupied,” Hirske's municipal head Oleksiy Babchenko said in a television broadcast.
“There are some insignificant, local battles going on at the outskirts, but the enemy has entered,” Babchenko added.
The development came as the Ukrainian forces have been ordered to withdraw from the eastern city of Severodonetsk, according to the top regional official.
“Remaining in positions that have been relentlessly shelled for months just doesn't make sense,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television, adding that, “They [Ukrainian forces] have received orders to retreat to new positions... and from there continue their operations.”