Russia, Ukraine peace talks stall amid mutual recriminations
Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stagnated, officials said on Tuesday, with both sides trading blame and Moscow indicating a return to talks may be difficult.
Russia accused Ukraine of hardening its stance and the West for bolstering the government in Kyiv, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Washington, London and Brussels want to use Ukraine to their strategic advantage.
Lavrov said he believes no pace deal can be made if negotiators try to “transfer the dialogue” to focus on what the West had to say instead of the immediate situation in Ukraine. That rules out chances for progress in talks, he added.
“We always say that we are ready for negotiations … but we were given no other choice,” Lavrov said.
Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since the end of February 2022, just days after Russia invaded its neighbour, but there has been little communication between them in recent weeks.
Also on Tuesday, Lavrov’s deputy Andrey Rudenko said Ukraine “has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process,” while Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky, said talks are not being conducted in any format.
“The (U.S.) State Department should not try to create “conditions” through military assistance to Kyiv. Useless,” Slutsky said.
The United States is expected to approve a $40 billion package of military and economic aid for Ukraine this week, with overall supply of weapons and aid from the West significantly increasing in recent weeks.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak confirmed that talks are “on hold” as Russia is not willing to accept that it “will not achieve any goals” and that the war is no longer going according to the Kremlin’s rules.
“Russia does not demonstrate a key understanding of today’s processes in the world,” Podolyak said, according to Ukrainian media. “And its extremely negative role.”
President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext to invade.
Thousands have been killed and millions displaced by the war. It has also left Russia in the grip of tough Western sanctions, and has raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and NATO.
“We have had not 10 years, but 20 years since the West began to prepare tools, including the use of NATO and Ukraine to contain Russia since the late 90s. All these years we insisted on negotiations – we have been ignored,” Lavrov said.
“Now we will solve problems depending on how we see them. I will always emphasize: we are ready to solve humanitarian issues,” Lavrov said.
High activity spotted at North Korea nuclear complex
Satellite images show a high level of activity at North Korea’s main nuclear site, a U.S. think tank reported on Saturday after the North Korean leader ordered an increase in production of bomb fuel to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The Washington-based 38 North North Korea monitoring project said the activity it had spotted, based on images from March 3 and 17, could indicate that an Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon site was nearing completion and transition to operational status, Reuters reported.
The report said the images showed that a 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon continued to operate and that construction had started on a support building around the ELWR. Further, water discharges had been detected from that reactor’s cooling system. New construction had also started around Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment plant, likely to expand its capabilities.
“These developments seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal,” the report added, referring to the North Korean leader.
On Tuesday, North Korea unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material to expand its arsenal, while denouncing stepped up military exercises by South Korea and the United States.
Its state media said Kim had ordered the production of weapons-grade materials in a “far-sighted way” to boost the country’s nuclear arsenal “exponentially.”
It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit on smaller weapons it has displayed and analysts say perfecting such warheads would most likely be a key goal if it resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
South Korea and the United States have warned since early 2022 that North Korea may resume nuclear testing at any time.
In a report last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated North Korea had assembled up to 20 nuclear warheads, and probably possessed sufficient fissile material for approximately 45–55 nuclear devices.
IMF approves $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its executive board had approved a four-year $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, part of a global $115 billion package to support the country’s economy as it battles Russia’s 13-month-old invasion.
A $2.6 billion U.S. military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine’s fight against Russia is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, three U.S. officials said on Friday.
A senior Ukrainian official ruled out any ceasefire in Russia’s war on his country that would involve Russian forces remaining on territory they now occupy in Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia faced “existential threats” to its security and development from “unfriendly states” as he presented President Vladimir Putin with an updated foreign policy doctrine.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken will push back on Russia’s attempts to “weaponize energy” and rally support for a Ukrainian counteroffensive when he meets NATO foreign ministers in Brussels next week, an official said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Russia, which has decided to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, could if necessary put intercontinental nuclear missiles there too.
At least six Russian missiles hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv late on Thursday, and officials are gathering details about damage and casualties, the regional governor said.
The advance of Russian soldiers on the outskirts of the eastern frontline town of Bakhmut “has been halted – or nearly halted”, the director of the Ukrainian defense publication Defense Express said.
Reuters could not verify battlefield reports.
Russia said on Friday that if the United States threatened Moscow over its arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, it would “reap the whirlwind”, the state-owned news agency RIA reported.
A Nobel prize-winning Russian journalist said he did not believe that arrested American reporter Evan Gershkovich was a spy, adding he hoped diplomacy could bring about his quick release.
Russia might put strategic nukes in Belarus, leader says
Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in Belarus along with part of Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that his country intended to deploy tactical, comparatively short-range and small-yield nuclear weapons in Belarus, AP reported.
The strategic nuclear weapons such as missile-borne warheads that Lukashenko mentioned during his state-of-the nation address would pose an even greater threat, if Moscow moves them to the territory of its neighbor and ally.
Belarus was a staging ground for amassing Russian troops before the invasion of Ukraine a little over 13 months ago. Lukashenko, the only person to have served as president since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, delivered his annual address amid escalating tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Both he and Putin have alleged that Western powers want to ruin Russia and Belarus.
“Putin and I will decide and introduce here, if necessary, strategic weapons, and they must understand this, the scoundrels abroad, who today are trying to blow us up from inside and outside,” the Belarusian leader said. “We will stop at nothing to protect our countries, our state and their peoples.”
Earlier in the address, Lukashenko called for a cease-fire in Ukraine.
A truce must be announced without any preconditions, and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted, he said.
Belarus and Russia have intensified their cooperation since the start of the Ukraine war. The Russian military has used its troops and missiles stationed in Belarus, although no Belarusian troops have participated in the fighting.
Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan all relinquished nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the so-called Budapest Memorandum that accompanied giving up the weapons, Russia, the United States and Britain agreed to respect the territorial integrity of those countries.
Ukraine has repeatedly complained that Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the 2022 invasion violate that agreement.
Lukashenko said Friday that he did not want to lose his country’s nuclear weapons but was pressured into doing so by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
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