Putin sets conditions as Russians shell Ukrainian city

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday set conditions for an end to his invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow’s troops shelled the country’s second city and Western countries prepared further sanctions.

Putin’s ultimatum came as Moscow and Kiev held their first talks since the outbreak of the war last Thursday, which shocked the world and caused a massive diplomatic, economic, cultural and sporting backlash.

Shortly before talks broke down, agreeing to hold a second round of negotiations “soon”, Putin explained his terms for ending the war in a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Putin stressed that a settlement is only possible if Russia’s legitimate security interests are unconditionally taken into account, including the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the demilitarization and denazification of the Ukrainian state and the guarantee of its neutral status,” he said. the Kremlin.

Fighting continued throughout the dialogue, with at least 11 people killed in Russian attacks in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov, near the Russian border.

More than 350 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed in the invasion, Ukraine says, while more than half a million have fled the country.

Oleg Sinegubov, the governor of the region that includes Kharkiv, said the “Russian enemy is bombarding residential areas of Kharkiv, where there is no critical infrastructure, where there are no armed forces positions”.

An AFP photographer in the city inspected the damage caused by fighting on Sunday and found a destroyed school, as well as several burnt-out Russian infantry vehicles.

Russian corpses in army clothes could also be seen on the street.

In Kiev, many were preparing for another attack with makeshift barricades on the streets.

The Russian army urged Ukrainians to leave Kiev “free” on a highway ahead of what is an expected Russian offensive to take the capital.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was “deeply concerned” as Russian troops advanced towards Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, and strongly warned against any military action that could threaten the Zaporizhzhya facility.

– Ruble plummets –

Long lines for groceries wound the streets of Kiev on Monday after a strict 36-hour military curfew was lifted and volunteer militias learned how to make homemade explosives.

“We will greet them with Molotov cocktails and bullets in the head,” bank employee Viktor Rudnichenko told AFP. “The only flowers they can get from us are for their graves.”

The Russian ruble plunged to an all-time low as sanctions imposed by the West over the weekend had an immediate impact in Moscow, forcing the central bank to more than double its key interest rate to 20 percent.

Putin also announced emergency measures to keep the ruble afloat, including a ban on residents transferring money abroad.

Many Russians rushed to withdraw money.

Retired soldier Edward Sysoyev, 51, fidgeted impatiently as he queued at a Moscow bank.

“Ninety percent of Russians will rush to withdraw their rubles and turn them into dollars, property, or even gold… it will be ordinary people paying for this military bun-fight,” he said.

The Moscow stock exchange was closed on Monday to avoid an expected massive sell-off.

– ‘Unprovoked Armed Aggression’ –

Also on Monday, an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly — just the 11th in the United Nations’ 77-year history — debated a resolution condemning Moscow’s “unprovoked armed aggression.”

“If Ukraine does not survive, the United Nations will not survive. Don’t be under any illusions,” said Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya.

The non-binding resolution will be voted on on Wednesday.

The UN ambassador to Moscow, meanwhile, said 12 members of Russia’s diplomatic mission to the UN have been ordered to leave the US by the end of March.

In further response to the Russian invasion, the International Criminal Court announced it would open an investigation.

“I am convinced that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine since 2014,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said.

And Turkey said it would implement an international treaty to limit the passage of ships through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, an action requested by Ukraine to block the passage of Russian warships.

In Russia, there were more signs of rare dissent among the usually ultra-loyal oligarchs surrounding the Russian leader — in addition to anti-war demonstrations that arrested an estimated 2,100 people on Sunday.

Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska said: “We need real crisis managers and not fantasists”, while billionaire banker Oleg Tinkov said: “Every day innocent people die, this is unthinkable and unacceptable!”

Western defense officials and the Kiev government say Ukrainian forces have so far kept the country’s major cities out of Russian hands, despite raids on the capital and Kharkiv over the weekend.

But the small southern city of Berdyansk is occupied, Ukraine said.

Moscow claimed it had been given “air superiority over the entire territory of Ukraine”, while accusing Ukrainian troops of using civilians as human shields.

But Olivier Kempf, a security analyst at the think tank Foundation for Strategic Research, said that: Russian troops were “not jammed”.

“This is war, so there are difficulties. They may have logistical problems. But whatever we are told, they are making progress,” he told AFP. “Only in video games do you conquer a country in two days.”

– Kicked out of World Cup –

The weekend featured a memorable series of announcements from Europe, with Germany unveiling a historic change in its defense policy, and the EU saying it would buy and supply arms to Ukraine, the first such move in its history.

On Monday, the European Union said it would add Russian oligarchs and Kremlin spokesman blacklisted sanctions, while traditionally neutral Switzerland said it would adopt the bloc’s sanctions.

An aide to French President Emmanuel Macron added that the EU and its allies were preparing new sanctions to “increase the cost of the war” for Putin and “change his calculations”.

The EU poured cold water on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request for “immediate” membership of the bloc, saying the process to join will take years.

Reactions from the sports world also picked up steam as Russia was removed from the World Cup and the country’s clubs and national teams were suspended “until further notice” from all international football competitions, FIFA and UEFA said.

According to the UN, Poland has hosted more than half of the 500,000 people who have fled Ukraine.

Katerina Zaporojets, a lab worker from the central city of Cherkassy, ​​said it took her 24 hours to arrive at the western Shegyni border post — and she will likely wait another 48 hours before crossing.

“The journey was very tough,” the 31-year-old told AFP. “It’s quieter here, but the ride was really scary.”

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