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Fresh shelling throws spanner in Ukraine truce hopes

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KYIV: Ukraine on Wednesday accused Russia of shelling a city where it had promised de-escalation, dampening hopes of an end to a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions, including 4m who have now fled the country.

Ukraine and Western powers had already cast doubt on Russia’s pledge to reduce military activity around Chernigiv and the capital Kyiv, made during face-to-face talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.

“Chernigiv was shelled all night,” regional governor Vyacheslav Chaus wrote on social media.

AFP reporters on Wednesday could also hear frequent explosions coming from the direction of the suburban town of Irpin to the northwest of Kyiv.

Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian defence ministry, said in a video statement that there had been “a certain partial movement of individual units from the Kyiv direction, as well as from the Chernigiv direction”.

But he added: “We do not observe the mass removal of Russian troops from these areas”.

Russian officials had pledged to “radically” reduce their attacks because of progress in negotiations on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status” of Ukraine — two central concerns for Moscow.

Both sides called the Istanbul meeting “meaningful” and “positive”, but the Kremlin on Wednesday played down hopes of a breakthrough.

“We cannot state that there was anything too promising or any breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “There is a lot of work to be done,” Peskov said.

Stock markets, which had been buoyed by the more hopeful comments on Tuesday, slid again and oil prices rose back up on supply concerns.

The Pentagon said Russia had merely repositioned a “small number” of forces near Kyiv, and could be preparing a “major offensive” elsewhere.

The “vast majority” of Russian forces around Kyiv remained in place, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Still, the talks in Istanbul marked the first sign of progress in discussions to end the conflict, with a Kyiv negotiator saying there were “sufficient” conditions for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

US President Joe Biden was due to speak to Zelensky later on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Western allies said they had no plans to ease measures taken to punish Russia for the invasion which the UN says has seen more than 4m Ukrainians flee.

Western sanctions should stay until “every single” Russian soldier is out of Ukraine, said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who called for sanctions to be intensified.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2022


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