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"We are holding talks with Ukraine," Vasily Nebenzya said in response to a question from a reporter following a Security Council meeting
Ukraine and Russia started their fourth round of negotiations on Monday via video link. So far, however, no agreements have been reached to end the military conflict, which has entered its twenty-first day on Thursday. Below are the main events as they happen.
Japan imposes sanctions against 15 Russian citizens and nine organizations
Japan's Foreign Ministry announced the imposition of sanctions against 15 Russian individuals, including Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, and nine organizations in connection with the situation in Ukraine.
"Given the current international situation in Ukraine, in order to maintain international peace and security (...) the Cabinet has agreed to measures such as asset freezing for officials of the Russian Federation," the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russia-Ukraine talks to continue - Russia’s UN envoy
Russia and Ukraine continue to hold talks, Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said on Thursday.
"We are holding talks with Ukraine," he said in response to a question from a reporter following a Security Council meeting. "The negotiating process is going on.".
South African Cyril Ramaphosa has blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday has blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine.
"The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region," Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa did, however, say South Africa "cannot condone the use of force and violation of international law", an apparent reference to the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian air force didn’t target theater in Ukraine’s Mariupol - Russian UN envoy
The Russian air force didn’t consider the Mariupol theater in Ukraine as a target, Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday.
Nebenzya said Russia’s alleged strike at a theater in Mariupol was one of the fakes that are being spread by Western countries.
"In fact, private persons as early as March 13 released information, which was obtained from Mariupol residents that had miraculously escaped from the city, that the Azov [nationalist battalion] was holding a huge number of people in that building and preparing a bloody provocation," he said. "The Russian armed forces were informed about the situation, and originally the theater building wasn’t designated as a target for an air strike anyway.".
Mexico calls for UN ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to Ukraine
Mexico raised Thursday before the United Nations (UN) Security Council that it is "imperative" to guarantee "safe and unrestricted" access for humanitarian and health personnel to provide basic services to the civilian population in Ukraine.
"It is urgent to ensure that the more than 300 medical facilities along or within the lines of conflict are respected; we also deplore the attacks against health personnel, as well as their means of transport or the equipment they need to operate," said the permanent representative of Mexico to the UN Security Council, Juan Ramón de la Fuente, in his intervention.
NATO understands Zelensky’s ‘frustration, desperation’ - Secretary-General
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he understands the "frustration and desperation" of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and promised to continue arms shipment to Ukraine.
"I fully understand the frustration and the desperation that President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people feel, because they are in an extremely difficult situation," Stoltenberg said during the joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. "They see civilian casualties and destruction every day."
"This is why NATO allies have stepped up their support, also delivering advanced weapon systems, air and missile defense and anti-tank weapons, fuel and ammunition," Stoltenberg said, underscoring that the alliance intends to continue these shipments.
He also underscored that NATO has been actively assisting in the development of the Ukrainian army since 2014, that the alliance has "trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops which are now on the front line."
Earlier in Berlin, Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO has no intention to take part in the conflict in Ukraine, emphasizing that NATO has an obligation to protect its own territory.
UN welcomes talks between Russia and Ukraine - Under-Secretary-General
The UN welcomes the ongoing negotiations between Russian and Ukraine, and the achieved progress, but regrets that the talks have not led to a ceasefire yet, says Rosemary DiCarlo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.
"This week, there were positive signals reported regarding the ongoing direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian representatives. We welcome all such engagements. However, we note that these signals have so far not translated into the cessation of hostilities that is so desperately needed," she said during a UN Security Council meeting Thursday.
Ukraine, Russia may agree on peace deal within week and half: Ukrainian presidential advisor
Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Thursday it would take between a few days and a week and a half for Ukraine and Russia to reach a peace agreement, the Ukrainian online media outlet Liga.net reported.
Kiev wants to fix in detail a specific plan for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine in the peace deal, said Podolyak, who is also a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the peace talks with Russia.
If the agreement is inked, it would allow Ukraine and Russia to end the acute phase of the conflict, he added.
On Wednesday, Podolyak said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may hold talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days.
US Congress lower house backs legislation to strip Russia of most favored nation status
The US House of Representatives on Thursday backed legislation to remove the ‘most favored nation’ trade status for Russia and Belarus. The voting is broadcast online on the site of the lower house.
The U.S. confirms that NATO will not close Ukraine's airspace. During a visit to Slovakia on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin once again ruled out the possibility of NATO closing airspace over Ukraine.
"If we closed the airspace, it would lead to a fight situation with Russia, and as we have said, we don't want to get to that," Austin acknowledged, explaining that "there is no 'light' version of closing the airspace or a situation of 'light' war with Russia."
"US forces are not going to fight in Ukraine and at the same time we will do everything possible to help Ukraine defend its country," he added, mentioning that Washington prefers to continue supporting Ukraine's defense with the delivery of armed drones and medium or short-range missiles.
Sanctions are "unlikely" to succeed in achieving political aims. "The United States and the EU are very energetic in the imposition of sanctions, trade barriers, technology barriers, and financial barriers towards Russia... I do not agree with this," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and a senior United Nations advisor.
Perceiving sanctions as Washington's widely used instrument, Sachs said, "the rampant use of extra-territorial sanctions and secondary sanctions is unlikely to succeed in their political aims (of the U.S. government), but do cause considerable damage."
On Wednesday, President Putin pointed out that Western sanctions “have backfired in Europe and in the United States where prices of gasoline, energy and food have shot up, and jobs in the industries associated with the Russian market have been cut."
"Imposing sanctions is the logical continuation and the distillation of the irresponsible and short-sighted policy of the U.S. and EU countries' governments and central banks," he added, recalling that they have driven up global inflation in recent years and caused rising global poverty and greater inequality across the world.
Russia says British information on peace plan is "incorrect". Referring to an article published by the Financial Times outlet, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described as "incorrect" the information on the 15-point peace plan that Russia would negotiate with Ukraine for a ceasefire, troop withdrawals, and a Kyiv's neutral status with respect to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The British newspaper had reported that the negotiators of both countries on Monday discussed a draft agreement, which would imply that Ukraine renounces joining NATO and hosting foreign military bases in exchange for receiving the protection of countries such as the United States, Turkey, or the United Kingdom.
Although the Kremlin spokesman said that the Financial Times article presents some data that "are right", he explained that the negotiations are still developing and there is no definitive agreement yet. Adviser to the Ukrainian Presidency Mykhailo Podolyak also expressed his disagreement with the published information, arguing that the draft agreement only represents Russian demands in the negotiations.
"The Ukrainian side has its own positions," he said, adding that a resolution of the conflict requires a direct dialogue between presidents Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin rejected the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that his Russia cannot "take into account" the ICJ's decision, which ordered his country to immediately suspend its military operations in Ukraine. The Russian official explained that Russia and Ukraine must agree so that such an eventuality can be implemented.
Ukrainian President listed six priorities during peace talks. "My priorities in the negotiations are absolutely clear: the end of the war, security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country," Zelensky said while addressing the nation on Thursday.