Ukraine to insist on sovereignty at next round of talks

Russia At War

LVIV, Ukraine (NewsNation) — Ukraine will insist on sovereignty and territorial integrity at the next round of peace negotiations with Russia that are to take place in Turkey, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Sunday.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “Effective guarantees of security are a must. Obviously, our goal is peace and return to normal life in our country as soon as possible.”

Zelenskyy accused the West of lacking courage as his country fights against Russia’s invasion, making an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to sustain a defense in a conflict that has ground into a war of attrition.

“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism and firmness are astonishing,” Zelenskyy said in a video address early Sunday, referring to the besieged coastal city that has suffered some of the war’s greatest deprivations and horrors.

“If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1% of their courage,” he continued.

Zelenskyy lashed out at the West’s “ping-pong about who and how should hand over jets” and other weapons while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians.

Meanwhile, officials were walking back statements made by President Joe Biden.

Biden said in a speech Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”

The White House and other U.S. officials rushed to clarify that Biden wasn’t actually calling for Putin to be toppled.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says that neither NATO nor Biden aim to bring about regime change in Russia.

Asked during an appearance Sunday on ARD television whether Putin’s removal is in fact the real aim, Scholz replied: “This is not the aim of NATO, and also not that of the American president.”

Scholz added: “We both agree completely that regime change is not an object and aim of policy that we pursue together.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U. S., Oksana Markarova, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that her country had heard Biden “loud and clear.”

“Now, it’s all up to all of us to stop Putin while it’s still local in Ukraine because this war is not only about Ukraine,” she said, but “an attack on democracy.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 32nd day, has stalled in many areas, its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender faltering in the face of staunch Ukrainian resistance, bolstered by weapons from the U.S. and other Western allies.

Zelenskyy signed a law Sunday that bans reporting on troop and equipment movements that haven’t been announced or approved by the military. Journalists who violate the law could face three to eight years in prison. The law does not differentiate between Ukrainian and foreign reporters.

Britain’s defense ministry said Russia’s troops looked to be trying to enclose Ukrainian forces directly facing the two separatist-held areas in the country’s east. That would cut the bulk of Ukraine’s military off from the rest of the country.

Moscow claims its focus is now on removing Ukraine from the entirety of the eastern Donbas region, which has been partially controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014. A high-ranking Russian military official said Friday that troops were being redirected to the east from other parts of the country.

The leader of one of the separatist-controlled areas of Donbas said Sunday that he wants to hold a vote on joining Russia, words that could indicate a shift in Russia’s position. Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said it plans to hold a referendum on becoming part of Russia “in the nearest time.”

In talks with Ukraine so far, Moscow has urged Kyiv to acknowledge the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, accused Russia of seeking to split Ukraine in two, like North and South Korea.

“The occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine,” Budanov said in a statement released by the Defense Ministry, He predicted that guerrilla warfare by Ukrainians would derail such plans.

Ukraine says that to defeat Russia, it needs fighter jets and not just the missiles and other defensive weapons supplied so far by the West. A proposal to transfer Polish planes to Ukraine via the United States was scrapped amid NATO concerns about getting drawn into a military conflict with Russia.

A damaged building and car after recent shelling, in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

In his pointed remarks, Zelenskyy accused Western governments of being “afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision.”

“So, who is in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it still Moscow, thanks to its scare tactics?” he said. “Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine.”

His plea was echoed by a priest in the western city of Lviv, which was struck by rockets Saturday. The aerial assault illustrated that Moscow, despite recent assertions that it intends to shift the war eastward, is willing to strike anywhere in Ukraine.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov confirmed that Russian forces used air-launched cruise missiles to hit a fuel depot and a defense plant in Lyiv. Konashenkov said another strike with sea-launched missiles destroyed a depot with air defense missiles in Plesetske just west of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The strikes came as Biden wrapped up a visit to Poland, where he met Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers, visited U.S. troops and saw refugees from the war.

A chemical smell still lingered in the air Sunday as firefighters in Lviv, about 45 miles from the Polish border, trained hoses on flames and black smoke pouring from oil storage tanks hit in the Russian attack.

A security guard at the site, Yaroslav Prokopiv, said he saw three rockets strike and destroy two oil tanks but no one was hurt.

“The third strike threw me to the ground,” he said.

Russia’s back-to-back airstrikes shook the city that has become a haven for an estimated 200,000 people who have fled bombarded towns and cities. Lviv, which has largely been spared bombardment, also has been a way-station for most of the 3.8 million refugees who have left Ukraine since Russia invaded Feb. 24. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed.

Zelenskyy also told independent Russian journalists Sunday that his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia, repeating earlier statements. That would include keeping Ukraine free of nuclear weapons, he said.

Russia quickly banned the interview from being published. Roskomnadzor, which regulates communications for Moscow, issued the ban, saying there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, which included “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”

Zelenskyy responded by saying Moscow was afraid of a relatively short conversation with journalists. “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said, according to the Ukrainian news agency RBK Ukraina.

A nuclear research facility in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, again came under fire Saturday. Ukraine’s nuclear watchdog said that because of ongoing hostilities it was impossible to assess the extent of the damage.

Kharkiv, which is close to the Russian border, has been besieged by Russian forces since the start of the invasion and has come under repeated shelling that has hit residential buildings and critical infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities have previously reported that Russian shelling had damaged buildings at the facility, but there had been no release of radiation. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said the nuclear material in the facility is always subcritical and the inventory of radioactive material is very low, reducing the risks of radiation release.

Disruption caused by the conflict, and the West’s far-reaching sanctions on Russia, has also driven up food and energy prices around the world.

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