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27 Feb, 2022 11:36

Moscow sends negotiating team, but Ukraine rejects summit location

Prospects for talks hang in limbo as Russian troops close in on Kiev
Moscow sends negotiating team, but Ukraine rejects summit location

Talks to end the Russian military operation in Ukraine are delayed again due to disagreements over the location of the potential summit.

Moscow attacked the neighboring nation this week, arguing that it was defending the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, which broke off from the eastern part of Ukraine shortly after the 2014 coup in Kiev. Ukraine said the move was an act of unprovoked aggression.

Russian diplomats and military officials have arrived in Gomel, a city in Belarus close to both the Russian and Ukrainian borders, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

“The Russian side is ready for talks in Gomel. We’re now waiting for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He claimed that Ukraine had suggested Gomel as the place for the summit.

The negotiating team is led by Vladimir Medinsky, an aide to President Vladimir Putin and former culture minister. He said the Russians will wait in Gomel until 3pm local time.

Ukraine, however, refused to send negotiators, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s spokesman, Sergii Nykyforov, confirmed. “We have indeed discussed such a format [of talks]. But negotiators from Russia demanded that the Ukrainian Army must first lay down its arms,” he wrote on social media, adding that the supposed demand was rejected.

Nykyforov accused Russia of dispatching officials to Gomel anyway in order to “pin the blame on Ukraine” for sabotaging negotiations.

Nykyforov said Kiev does not want to send negotiators to Belarus because Russia has been using its territory to stage attacks on Ukraine. “We’re ready to meet on any neutral ground,” he said.

President Zelensky highlighted the same point in a video address on Sunday. He said Kiev has offered to hold a summit in countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, or Azerbaijan. “Only this way the talks can be honest and can really end the war,” Zelensky said. Belarus has denied that its forces were participating in the attack against Ukraine.

The Russian military says its troops have captured an airfield near Kiev and are approaching the city. Ukrainian officials reported “heavy fighting” in the suburbs on Sunday morning.

Russia warned Ukraine it will not suspend its offensive for talks this time, according to the Kremlin. Moscow claimed that Russian advances deeper into Ukrainian territory were briefly halted on Saturday when Moscow was expecting talks with Kiev. Ukraine said at the time that Russia was trying to push it towards “capitulation.”

Many countries, including the US, UK, and EU member states, have imposed new sanctions on Russia over its military campaign in Ukraine.