Vladimir Putin has dropped peace talks with Ukraine so he can conquer as much territory as he can before the war ends, Kremlin sources say.
He feels that the negotiations have reached a ‘dead end’ and will not sign anything after the sinking of the Moscow warship left him humiliated, according to the three Moscow insiders.
One told the Financial Times: ‘There was hope for a deal. Putin went back and forth. He must find a way out of this as a winner. ‘
Another added: ‘Putin sincerely believes in the nonsense he hears about [Russian] TV and he wants to win big. ‘
A senior member of the Ukrainian delegation, Rustem Umirov, said: ‘We are continuing the negotiation process. Primarily – to save more lives for our people.
‘We will use all the political and diplomatic efforts to stop this bloodshed. But there are red lines we will never cross. Ukraine will never give up its people and its territories. ‘
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meets with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow today in the highest-profile peacekeeping mission since the war began.
He said that the conditions for a ceasefire in Ukraine should be created as soon as possible. But Western countries have said they do not have much hope of a breakthrough, and it is clear that people in the Kremlin feel the same way.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba yesterday called on the UN chief to press Russia for an evacuation of the besieged port city of Mariupol.
He said he was concerned that Guterres, by visiting Moscow before moving to Kiev, could be lured into a cunning ‘trap’ set by the Kremlin.
Kuleba said Guterres should primarily focus on one topic – the evacuation of Mariupol.
It is estimated that 100,000 people are trapped inside the southern port city with scarce supplies of food, water or heat after being subjected to a brutal medieval siege for several months.
Today, according to Ukrainian authorities, a third mass grave with civilian bodies was found in the area around Mariupol.
Meanwhile, an estimated 1,000 civilians and 2,000 warriors are hitting the Azovstal steelworks.
With a maze of tunnels beneath it, the site has become the last remaining stronghold of soldiers who have refused to surrender to Russia.
Last week, Putin declared ‘victory’ over Mariupol and asked his troops to block it ‘so that not even a fly comes through’, leaving those still inside starving.
But Russian top brass seemed to have changed its position over the weekend as troops again tried to storm the steelworks.
Conquering Mariupol is seen as strategically crucial, as it will help connect the eastern separatist-controlled Donbas region with Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014.
Kyiv has denied entering into an agreement with Moscow to evacuate civilians from the steelworks and has pressured the UN to be the ‘initiator and guarantor’ of any such agreement.
Yesterday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it would open a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave the country.
But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app: ‘This could be believed if the Russians had not destroyed humanitarian corridors many times before.’
Earlier ceasefire attempts in Mariupol earlier in the war collapsed within hours as Russian troops were accused of resuming their bombings as civilians fled for their lives.
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