With no agreement on a ceasefire and new attacks on the under-siege cities in Ukraine. That’s how the meeting ended on Thursday between the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his opposite number in Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba. Turkey was the mediator at the talks.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of the devastating attack on Wednesday on a maternity ward in Mariupol, which saw three people – including a little girl – lose their lives. The talks concluded, however, with no significant advances toward an end to the conflict that Russian President Vladimir Putin started when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
The war is now entering its third week, and has seen ever-more violent attacks against civilians and no clear end on the horizon. Diplomatic chiefs from both countries are yet to even agree on a humanitarian corridor that would allow for trapped residents to be evacuated.
Lavrov – who will not be moved from the Kremlin’s claims that Moscow has neither invaded nor attacked Ukraine, but rather is protecting itself from the neighboring country’s threats – has even stated that a ceasefire deal is not on the table.
While the foreign chiefs from Kyiv and Moscow were meeting in Antalya, Turkey, there was a fresh attempt going on to establish a safe route out of Mariupol, where the situation has been described by the Red Cross as being “apocalyptic.” But it failed, and a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach the city was forced to turn around due to the fighting, according to the Ukrainian authorities. The city – which has massive problems in terms of electricity supply, lacks heating in the middle of winter, has barely any drinking water, food or medicines – is in a desperate situation, with the dead having to be buried in a mass grave, according to local authorities.
The local council claims that 1,200 civilians have died in recent days in Mariupol, a city that Russia is keen to get its hands on in order to create a route from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed illegally in 2014, and the pro-Russian Donbas areas that are controlled by Moscow.
Even as the conflict gets more brutal, the Kremlin is still insisting that its troops are not attacking civilians. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, has said that there will be an investigation into what happened in Mariupol. But Lavrov insisted that the hospital – where there were pregnant women and newborn babies, according to verified images taken after the attack – was “being used” by a “radical battalion.” He also claimed that there were armed radicals present.
As the civilian casualties rise and the total number of Ukrainians fleeing the war passes the two-million mark, the Ukrainian foreign minister has accused his opposite number of not being prepared to enter a genuine negotiation, but rather just accept Kyiv’s surrender.
Lavrov, meanwhile, has opened the door to a meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, something that the latter has been requesting for some time. “I hope that this is necessary at some point,” the Russian minister said. “But preparatory work is necessary for this,” he added.