The continuation of negotiations to end Russia’s war against Ukraine is in doubt, with Ukraine’s president saying it is hard to discuss peace amid public anger over alleged atrocities carried out by Russian troops, and Russia’s foreign minister saying that Western sanctions and arms shipments were impeding the talks.
The comments by Ukrainian and Russian officials came as hopes for an evacuation of civilians from the besieged southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol faded and Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine’s east.
While Russia claimed on April 30 to have struck more than 380 targets overnight as it tries to take full control of the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said that the Russian military’s efforts to capture targets were “not succeeding — the fighting continues.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his latest televised address on April 29 that Kyiv’s forces were making tactical gains in the region, while a senior U.S. defense official said the same day that stiff Ukrainian resistance was slowing Russia’s Donbas offensive.
Zelenskiy’s office had earlier said that an operation was planned to get civilians out of the huge Azovstal steel plant, where some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up together with about 1,000 civilians, but there was no sign of an evacuation by the end of April 29.
Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, located in the country’s northeast, was reportedly targeted by mortar and artillery shelling on April 30. Zelenskiy said in his televised address the night before that Ukrainian forces had recaptured a strategically important village near the city and evacuated hundreds of civilians.
The Ukrainian military said in its daily briefing on April 30 that the greatest enemy losses were taking place near Izyum, in the region of Kharkhiv bordering the Luhansk and Donetsk territories.
Aleksandr Bogomaz, the governor of Bryansk in Russia, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian aircraft from entering the region, and as a result shelling had hit parts of an oil terminal, Russian news agencies reported.
The governor of another Russian region, Kursk, said several shells were fired from the direction of Ukraine on April 30 at a checkpoint near its border. Roman Starovoit said in a video on his Telegram channel that there were no casualties or damage.
Zelenskiy told the nation on April 29 that the constant “brutal” bombardments on infrastructure and residential areas “show that Russia wants to empty [the Donbas region] of all people,” and said that the “defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life.”
He said that if Russian forces, which invaded Ukraine unprovoked in late February and have been accused of carrying out war crimes against civilians, “are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbas into stone.”
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Zelenskiy said that Mariupol, once one of the east’s most developed cities, was now a “concentration camp among the ruins.”
Earlier the same day he told Polish journalists that Ukrainian people seek retribution for alleged atrocities by Russian troops, and “when that kind of attitude exists, it’s hard to talk about things.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, has dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors from besieged Ukrainian cities. He also called on the West to stop providing arms to Ukraine and said that “difficult” negotiations with Kyiv continue.
Speaking to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV on April 29, Lavrov said that he appreciated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals to help evacuate Ukrainian civilians from besieged cities, but that “there is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry has confirmed that it had carried out an air strike on Kyiv during Guterres’ visit to the Ukrainian capital on April 28, saying that “high-precision, long-range air-based weapons” were used in an attack it claimed had destroyed a missile-production facility in Kyiv.
Journalist Vira Hyrych, who worked for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was among those killed when a missile hit her apartment.
In comments published by China’s official Xinhua news agency on April 30, Lavrov said that talks with Kyiv continue daily, with Moscow insisting on the “recognition of new geopolitical realities, the lifting of [Western] sanctions, and the status of the Russian language.”
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have not met face to face since the end of March, with Russian troops accused of carrying out war crimes and Western nations tightening punitive sanctions against Moscow and increasing military aid to Kyiv.
Lavrov told Xinhua that, if the United States and the Western NATO military alliance were “really interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis, then first of all, they should wake up and stop supplying the Kyiv regime with arms and ammunition.”
The Russian foreign minister also said that Russia, which has been hard-hit by punitive sanctions over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, could “retool” its economy to counter “unlawful hostilities.”
French President Emmanuel Macron told Zelenskiy during a call on April 30 that his country would step up military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
In Washington, Congress is preparing to consider U.S. President Joe Biden’s request for $33 billion to support Ukraine, a massive jump in funding that includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition, and other military aid.
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on April 29 that, in the month since Moscow announced that it would focus its military efforts in Ukraine on the country’s east, it had made minimal gains.
In the assessment of the United States, the official said, the Russian military was “at least several days behind where they wanted to be” in its attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops. The official described Russian troops’ efforts to move from Mariupol to advance on Ukrainian forces from the south as “slow and uneven and certainly not decisive.”
The British Defense Ministry, in its latest assessment, said that Russia had “been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in northeast Ukraine.” However, British intelligence said that many of the units are “likely suffering from weakened morale” and “a lack of unit-level skills and inconsistent air support have left Russia unable to fully leverage its combat mass.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week threatened unspecified retaliation for Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, while Lavrov said the West should not underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict.
Russia’s invasion and heightened rhetoric has led to concerns that the war in Ukraine could spill into neighboring Moldova, whose separatist Transdniester region is backed by Moscow and hosts Russian forces.
A series of recent blasts in Transdniester have led to accusations that Moscow is seeking to destabilize Moldova.
When asked about the risk of war in Moldova during his April 29 interview with Al-Arabiya, Lavrov said that “Moldova should worry about its own future,” suggesting that the country is “being pulled into NATO.”
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters