Russia and Ukraine agreed Thursday (March 3) on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape the eight-day-old invasion of Moscow, the first apparent progress in the talks, as the US added Western sanctions against more oligarchs.
Thousands are believed to have died or been injured as the biggest attack on a European state since World War II unfolds, creating 1 million refugees, hitting the Russian economy and fears of a broader conflict in the West unthought for decades.
Russian forces continued to surround and attack Ukrainian towns, including Mariupol, the main eastern port which came under heavy shelling, without water or electricity. Officials say they cannot evacuate the injured.
After talks at an undisclosed location, Russia said “substantial progress” had been made while the Ukrainian side highlighted an agreement on aid to ordinary people, but not the results Kyiv had hoped for.
Television footage from Belarusian television showed what appeared to be the name of a restaurant “Byelovejaya pushta”, which coincides with the location where the agreement to dissolve the Soviet Union was signed in December 1991, by Russia , Ukraine and Belarus. Putin called the dissolution of the USSR “the biggest geopolitical mistake in history”.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary halt to fighting in some places was also possible.
“That is, not everywhere, but only in the places where the humanitarian corridors themselves will be, it will be possible to cease fire for the duration of the evacuation,” he said.
They had also agreed on the delivery of medicine and food to the places where the fiercest fighting was taking place. The negotiators will meet again next week, the official Belarusian Belta news agency quoted Podolyak as saying.
The West responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion with military support and by tightening the economic screws on the Kremlin and the Russians. The fallout so far has included queues outside banks, a fall in the value of the ruble and an exodus of foreign businesses.
Lukoil calls for an end to the war
In a sign of trade malaise, Russia’s second largest oil producer, Lukoil, a private company, has called for an end to the dispute as soon as possible, saying it is concerned about “tragic events in Ukraine”.
Lukoil has assets in Western Europe, including some 150 service stations in the Benelux.
On Thursday, the United States and Britain announced sanctions against other oligarchs, following the EU measures.
Included was Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, the founder of mining company Metalloinvest.
In Germany, his luxury yacht worth nearly $600 million was moored at a shipyard in Hamburg. Hamburg’s economic authority said the ship was not expected to be delivered to its owner.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has also been hit with US sanctions. Visa restrictions will be imposed on 19 Russian oligarchs, their family members and associates, the White House has announced.
The sanctions have “already had a profound impact,” President Joe Biden said.
1 million refugees
Kiev and other major cities are still under Ukrainian control, but the United Nations said a million people have now fled, mostly seeking refuge in Poland and other neighbors to the west.
As shelling and rocket fire continued, the government has asked for more military aid, which some countries fear will provoke Russia and escalate the conflict.
“How can partners who have not yet supplied warplanes to Ukraine sleep, given that children are sitting in basements under bombardment…?” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine needs military aircraft that its pilots can fly. Bulgaria and Poland have such Mig29 planes, but neither would send them to Ukraine, as this decision could be interpreted by Russia as a casus belli.
Russia has acknowledged nearly 500 of its soldiers killed since Putin sent his troops across the border on February 24. Ukraine says it has killed nearly 9,000 people, although this cannot be confirmed.
Military analysts say Russian columns are now confined to roads as the spring thaw turns Ukrainian soil to mud. Every day the main attack force remains stuck on the highway north of Kiev, its condition deteriorating, said Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
Emergency services in the eastern region of Chernihiv said 33 bodies had been pulled from the rubble of a Russian airstrike. Earlier Governor Viacheslav Chaus said at least nine people were killed in an airstrike that hit homes and two schools.
Two cargo ships were apparently attacked in Ukrainian ports. Six crew members were rescued at sea after an Estonian-owned vessel exploded and sank off Odessa, and at least one crew member was killed in an explosion on a Bangladeshi ship in Olvia.
In Borodyanka, a town 60 km northwest of Kiev where residents repelled a Russian assault, burnt-out hulks of Russian armor were scattered on a highway, surrounded by buildings reduced to rubble.
“They started firing from their APC towards the park in front of the post office,” said a man in the apartment where he was sheltering with his family, referring to a Russian armored personnel carrier.
“Then those bastards launched the tank and started shooting at the supermarket which was already on fire. It burst into flames again. An old man ran outside like a madman, with big round eyes, and said ‘give me a Molotov cocktail! I just set their APC on fire!”
(Editing by Georgi Gotev)