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First round of Ukraine-Russia negotiations inconclusive as casualties pile up

Ukrainian and Russian delegations meet for the first round of negotiations on the Belarusian border on Feb. 28, 2022 after five days of heavy fighting since Russia launched an all-out war on Ukraine. (Pravda Gerashchenko/Telegram)

After five brutal days of fighting, the first round of talks between Ukraine and Russia ended inconclusively.

Mykhailo Podoliak, advisor to the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration, said that a number of core themes had been identified, and that the delegations would go back to their capitals for further discussion. The discussion mainly focused on stopping the fighting.

Negotiations were held on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border near the Prypyat River. 

Podoliak said that the two sides would hold a second round of talks at the earliest possible opportunity.

“At (these talks), the themes (discussed today) will be concretely developed,” he said.

Podolyak then tweeted that while it did not impose any ultimatums, the Russian side “unfortunately still has a non-objective understanding of the destruction it has caused.”

According to the Ukrainian government, the war has cost 352 Ukrainian lives and approximately 5,300 Russian ones. Russia only acknowledged taking casualties four days into the war, and has thus far refused to give any numbers.

The Ukrainian side was represented by Podoliak, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, ruling party leader David Arakhamia, Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytskyi, diplomat Andriy Kostin, and lawmaker Rustem Umerov. 

Russia was represented by Presidential Advisor Vladimir Medinsky, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, and Russian ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov.

Ukraine went into talks demanding an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine.

Podolyak said on Feb. 27 that Russia was seeking to force Ukraine into an “unacceptable compromise” with its all-out assault on Ukraine.

Zelensky said previously that he did not believe the negotiations would yield a positive outcome, but that talks would go ahead so that “no citizen of Ukraine doubts that I, as president, tried to stop the war when there was still a chance, however small.”

Despite an overwhelming manpower and equipment advantage, Russia’s five-day assault has been marked by tactical failures. Multiple videos have shown Russian tanks and APCs abandoned by roadsides after they ran out of fuel, and many attacks have been beaten back by Ukrainian forces.

According to Bellingcat, Russia has started using cluster munitions in Kharkiv. Cluster bombs are prohibited by a treaty ratified by 110 countries, of which Russia is not one. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also facing domestic opposition to the war after several thousand protestors came out onto the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg despite totalitarian anti-demonstration laws. Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska have also publicly called for peace.

Russia has also been pressured by Western sanctions, namely the closure of EU, U.K., and Canadian airspace to all Russian-registered aircraft, and EU plans to throw several large Russian banks off SWIFT, the global payment order system. 

The Russian ruble is 30% down today despite intervention from Russia’s Central Bank, and analysts fear a possible run on the banks.

Day that changed everything

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began just after 4:45 a.m. Kyiv time on Feb. 24, when Putin announced a “special operation” to “disarm and de-Nazify” Ukraine. This was immediately followed by cruise missile strikes on major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, and multi-directional assaults towards Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kherson, and Mariupol.

The outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, have turned into a major combat zone, with Ukraine’s government claiming to have destroyed 100 Russian vehicles yesterday in the satellite town of Bucha. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that nine civilians and 18 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the city since fighting began, and 106 civilians and soldiers were injured.

The assault was prefaced with an escalation of shelling by Russia and its proxies from the occupied Donbas territories over the previous week. Putin then announced he was recognizing the occupied regions as independent states on Feb. 21. The Russian Parliament officially approved the decision the next day.

U.S. and U.K. intelligence had been warning of an imminent attack since late November 2021. However, Zelensky continued to downplay the threat up until as late as Jan. 28, accusing Western leaders of spreading “panic.” Ukraine did not begin to mobilize its reserves until Feb. 23, the day before the invasion.

However, since the beginning of an all-out offensive, Zelensky has received plenty of plaudits for his wartime leadership. The president, who is still in Kyiv, responded to a U.S. offer to evacuate him by publicly stating “I don’t need a ride, I need ammo.” 

According to a new poll by the Rating Group, Zelensky has a 91% approval rating, an unprecedented number for a Ukrainian leader. 

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