Zelensky outlines demands for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia

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RIGA, Latvia — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday outlined his terms for starting peace talks with Russia, demanding the restoration of pre-invasion borders, the return of more than 5 million refugees, joining the European Union and the responsibility of Russian military leaders before kyiv considers laying down its arms.

Zelensky’s list of demands, which he listed in an online forum hosted by Chatham House, is in direct conflict with the military goals that Russian leaders have laid out as they go after the region. Donbass and southern Ukraine – inflicting additional casualties on Friday in apparent violation of a ceasefire.

They also come as Ukraine and its Western allies await any declarations or dramatic changes to the battlefield by the Kremlin ahead of Monday, when Russia observes Victory Day, commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany. and the end of the European front in World War II.

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New curfews have been announced in Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian enclave that borders areas experiencing heavy fighting, while the mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv warned residents to be prepared for an increase in attacks missiles during the holidays. Britain’s Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, warned on Friday that Russia is likely to attempt to complete its takeover of the port city of Mariupol – where a small group of forces and civilians remain locked in the steelworks of Azovstal – before Victory Day celebrations.

The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed speculation that it might try to deploy a nuclear weapon, noting that its doctrine on this point was “not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set during the special military operation in Ukraine”. But there were signs that Russia was taking a series of softer steps to assert its dominance in the Ukrainian regions over which it claimed control.

City workers were pictured replacing road signs around Mariupol in Ukrainian script with ones in Russian script, days after reports and images shared online said that Russian authorities have forced residents of Kherson, a region just north of Crimea, to switch their currency from Ukrainian hryvnia to Russian ruble.

Russia has long justified its incursions into Ukraine by saying it is protecting the rights of Russian speakers in eastern regions.

President Biden is expected to mark the signing of the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act on Monday, a bill that aims to speed up the process by which the United States can send weapons to Ukraine. This bill signing will come a day after Biden is due to virtually meet with Zelensky and the leaders of the Group of Seven nations to discuss the situation on the ground.

Ukraine has seen a huge influx of pledges of arms assistance since repelling the Russian advance in the north of the country.

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The US has already sent the ‘vast, vast majority’ of the 90 howitzers it pledged to Ukraine, as well as about 60% of the 144,000 artillery shells it pledged to provide these weapons systems, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. On Friday, Germany pledged to send seven more howitzer systems to help kyiv, while US officials said they would send nearly $140 million more in aerial drones, laser-guided rockets, binoculars and other support items.

But the pipeline is not unlimited. On Friday, Biden announced that the United States would send another package of “artillery munitions, radars and other additional equipment” for Ukraine, but he said the government had “almost exhausted” the funding approved by Congress. which could be used to send more help. Earlier Friday, Kirby said the administration had about $250 million in drawdown authority.

Biden has requested an additional $33 billion in aid from Ukraine, nearly two-thirds of which would be dedicated to security expenses. Kirby said the package should get Ukraine through another five months of fighting. Congress has yet to approve the funding, and there are concerns about how quickly defense contractors would be able to respond to government requests to replenish US stockpiles to ship to Ukraine what she needs.

“It’s pretty unprecedented, the amount of ammunition that’s being used right now,” Pentagon procurement chief Bill LaPlante told reporters on Friday. He said the United States and Europe will “re-examine our assumptions” about future levels of arms production. necessary in times of peace to avoid being caught off guard, “where all of a sudden we find that our production lines need to be reinforced”.

International leaders appear to be preparing for a long period of conflict, warning on Friday that the global threats posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could metastasize in the weeks and months to come. European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told The Associated Press he was “very worried” that Russia might try to invade Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the west. Russia already has a military presence in Transnistria, a narrow breakaway region that runs along much of Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

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Amnesty International released a comprehensive report on Friday citing “compelling evidence” of war crimes in the Ukrainian village of Bucha, including “apparent extrajudicial executions…reckless shootings and torture”. Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, Donatella Rovera, noted that the findings were “very much part of a pattern wherever Russian forces have control of a town or village”.

The UN has warned that nearly 25 million tonnes of grain destined for export are stuck in Ukraine following fighting which has crippled infrastructure there and led to a blockade of port cities like Mariupol.

Ukraine, normally one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, also accused Russia of “stealing their grain en masse” from farmers. Either way, global export deficits are expected to cause price shocks, UN officials say, and could exacerbate resource conflicts elsewhere in the world.

Demirjian and Bella reported from Washington, DC, and Francis reported from London. Mariana Alfaro, Dan Lamothe, Claire Parker and Adam Taylor in Washington, DC; Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and David L. Stern of Mukachevo, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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