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Ukraine, Russia Brace for 2nd Round of Peace Talks as Kyiv Demands Immediate Ceasefire

Russian and Ukrainian officials take part in the talks in the Gomel region, Belarus Feb. 28, 2022.
Russian and Ukrainian officials take part in the talks in the Gomel region, Belarus Feb. 28, 2022.

Moscow and Kyiv will hold a second round of peace talks, according to both governments, after Ukrainian delegates demanded an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian forces during initial talks Monday on the border with Belarus.

Ukrainian resistance coupled with Russian military logistical failures have slowed Moscow’s invasion into Ukraine. After five days of fighting, Russia’s military has not taken a single major Ukrainian city, with its “main push” toward Kyiv about 25 km outside the city center after only advancing a handful of kilometers Sunday, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

“Ukrainians are putting up continued, and sustained and stiff resistance in and around Kyiv,” the official said. "They (the Russians) have been frustrated by their lack of progress on Kyiv.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has now committed nearly 75% of the combat power Russia pre-positioned around Ukraine’s borders to the invasion. But videos posted on social media show lines of Russian tanks and armored vehicles have been wiped out. Warplanes and helicopters have been shot down, according to officials, and Russian troops have been stranded on roadsides after their vehicles ran out of fuel.

“Airspace over Ukraine remains contested. Russians have not achieved air superiority over the whole country. Ukrainian air defenses remain intact and viable, both in terms of aircraft and missile defense systems,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday.

The official added that it appeared Russian forces were trying to section off the eastern part of Ukraine by controlling from Kharkiv to Mariupol in the south. Neither city had been broken by Russian advances, although Kharkiv has seen the “heaviest fighting,” according to officials.

A senior official on Sunday cautioned that Russian forces are likely to learn from their initial invasion failures and adapt for future attacks.

Ukraine Seeks EU Admittance

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the European Union to grant his country immediate membership in the bloc.

Zelenskyy signed an application for Ukraine to join the European Union on Monday, asking for a fast-track EU accession in a video message in which he also encouraged Russian troops to lay down their arms.

"Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing,” he said. “I'm sure it's fair. I'm sure it's possible."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke with the Ukrainian leader by phone and “commended him for the bravery of the people and armed forces of Ukraine.”

“NATO allies are stepping up support with air-defense missiles, anti-tank weapons, as well as humanitarian and financial aid,” Stoltenberg tweeted.

Russia faced increased diplomatic and economic pressure Monday, the fifth day of its invasion, with the United Nations General Assembly due to hold an emergency session, Russia’s currency plunging to a record low and the addition of new sanctions against the country’s central bank.

Among the new sanctions imposed Monday, Britain prohibited British entities from conducting transactions with Russia’s central bank, finance ministry and wealth fund, while Singapore announced a set of sanctions that include targeting bank transactions and export controls.

A day after the European Union said it was sending fighter jets to Ukraine, Australia on Monday committed to an unspecified delivery of lethal military equipment.

Asked by VOA how the U.S. was helping get international military aid to Ukrainians, the senior defense official told reporters, “I don't know of a single unified sort of body to pull that together. Right now, countries are doing what they can, when they can, and where they can, and that includes the United States.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that the EU was engaging in hostile behavior toward Russia, and that providing arms to Ukraine was an “extremely dangerous and destabilizing factor.”

Peskov also said that while sanctions imposed against Moscow are heavy, Russia has been planning for them and “has the potential to offset the harm.”

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden would hold a call with several allies Monday to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine “and to coordinate our united response.”

At least 350 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded last week, with another 1,700 wounded, Ukraine said Sunday. There was no information about casualties among Ukrainian forces, and while Russia has acknowledged casualties among its troops, it has not publicly disclosed any count.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted Monday that more than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries.

Putin told his defense minister to put nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty” Sunday, saying that leading NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” and imposed financial sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Following a vote for a rare special session of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded to Putin’s nuclear alert, saying Russia “is under no threat from NATO, a defensive alliance that will not fight in Ukraine. This is another escalatory and unnecessary step that threatens us all. We urge Russia to tone down its dangerous rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons.”

Russia voted against calling Monday’s special session of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly but could not exercise veto power on the procedural vote. China, the United Arab Emirates and India abstained.

Explaining China’s abstention, U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing believes the top priority now is for all parties to exercise the necessary restraint to prevent the situation from getting worse.

“Actions taken by the U.N. should help cool the situation and facilitate diplomatic solutions and restrain from aggravating tensions,” Zhang said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.