Ukraine’s president has said the war can only be resolved through diplomacy, despite the current suspension of negotiations.
“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly take place,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with a Ukrainian television channel.
“Under what format I don’t know – with intermediaries, without them, in a broader group, at the presidential level. But the war will be bloody, there will be fighting and will only definitively end through diplomacy.”
He added: “There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table. We want everything to return [to as it was before] but Russia does not want that,” he said.
The last talks between the two sides took place on 22 April, according to Russian news agencies.
The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, accused Ukraine of not wanting to continue talks to end the fighting.
During the interview, Zelenskiy spoke of a document about security guarantees for his country. Although a bilateral discussion would be held with Russia at the same time, the document would be signed by “friends and partners of Ukraine, without Moscow”, he added.
However, Zelenskiy warned that the precondition for resuming the negotiations with Moscow was that Russia does not kill Ukrainian troops who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
“The most important thing for me is to save the maximum number of people and soldiers,” he said.
On Friday, Russia claimed to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol – in what has been described as Moscow’s biggest prize since it invaded Ukraine in February – after the last group of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks surrendered. The move marked an end to the three-month siege of the defenders’ last stronghold in the city.
“Underground structures of Azovstal where militants were hiding are now under full control of Russian armed forces,” Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement, adding that in total 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered.
Hours before the Russian announcement, Zelenskiy said the defenders had been told by Ukraine’s military that they could get out and save their lives and would most probably all leave in the coming days.
In a live video posted on Telegram, Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov regiment who has led the defense of the factory, said only the dead remained.
“The higher military command has given the order to save the lives of the soldiers of our garrison and to stop defending the city,” he said. “I now hope that soon the families and all of Ukraine will be able to bury their fighters with honours.”
Ukraine hopes to exchange the surrendering Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities are threatening to put some of them on trial.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Russia’s Gazprom halted gas exports to neighboring Finland, the Finnish gas system operator said, after Helsinki angered Moscow by applying for Nato membership.
Finland, along with neighboring Sweden, this week broke its historical military non-alignment and applied to join Nato, after public and political support for the alliance soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow warned Finland that any Nato membership application would be “a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences”.
The majority of gas used in Finland comes from Russia but the fuel only accounts for about 5% of its annual energy consumption.
On the ground in Ukraine, fierce fighting continued in the eastern region of Donbas, where, Zelenskiy said, Russian troops “completely ruined the cities of Rubizhne, Volnovakha, just as they did Mariupol”, adding that the Russians were “trying to do the same with Severodonetsk and many other cities”.
And while the US Congress this week approved a $40bn (£32bn) aid package, including funds to enhance Ukraine’s armored vehicle fleet and air defense system, Moscow claimed on Saturday it had destroyed a large shipment of US and European weapons, using sea- launched Kalibr cruise missiles that allegedly hit Malin railway station, north-west of Kyiv, in the Zhytomyr region.
There was no Ukrainian or independent confirmation as to the success of the strike.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism