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France contradicts Lavrov, says “no change” in Russia aims

Talks Resume As “Huge” Battles Erupt Near Ukraine’s Capital; France Says “No Change” In Russia’s Aims Despite positive words from Lavrov

On Friday Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is preparing a response to Ukraine’s prior proposals issued in Istanbul early this week on reaching a ceasefire, as the next round of dialogue is currently underway via remote link. 

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Strike on Russian oil depot reported as Ukraine talks ongoing

His statements were generally in a positive direction, saying that in light of Ukraine of late showing “more understanding” as to the Crimea and Donbas issues, Moscow stands ready to engage on Kiev’s proposals on neutral and non-nuclear status for the country, according to Bloomberg. However, France and the UK in particular, are urging the Ukrainians against compromise until Russian troops withdraw from the country.

Image via The Guardian/Shutterstock

Following days of outside speculation in the West over just how “constructive” toward a potential breakthrough the talks in Istanbul were, France, – which has been closely involved in pushing a diplomatic resolution hard, particularly through repeat Macron-Putin phone calls – has weighed in, and despite what Lavrov has said, is pouring cold water on any optimism. 

“I don’t see any signs indicating a real and long-term change in Russia’s position,” France Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French newspaper Thursday. “Even though its troops are moving slower than the Kremlin expected, I don’t currently see any significant retreat or a ceasefire,” Le Drian said.

“The so-called regime of silence that Russia announced for a few hours in Mariupol yesterday was clearly not enough,” he added, in reference to the announced humanitarian evacuation corridor opened Friday at French and German request. The city has been in Russian hands since early this week, but Ukrainian civilians still remain. 

Around 2,000 civilians are on evacuation buses heading from the coastal city of Berdyansk to the Ukrainian government-held city of Zaporizhzhia, carrying civilians evacuating from the besieged city of Mariupol,” CNN reports. 

“One of the Biden administration’s worst nightmares.”

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CNN international affairs analyst @KimDozier explains how the purported attack on the Russian fuel depot, which the Ukrainian military hasn’t commented on, affects the US’ role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. pic.twitter.com/mhEdPCmmW5

— CNN (@CNN) April 1, 2022

Russia is trying to extinguish fire at Belgorod oil depot using a helicopter. https://t.co/eXAp9sjZyI pic.twitter.com/6cUPyB9YqA

“The evacuation convoy left Berdyansk for Zaporizhzhia,” the city of Mariupol announced on Telegram via its council. “Many private vehicles have joined the 42 buses escorted by Red Cross and SES (State Emergency Service) vehicles. Today we expect the arrival of a record number of Mariupol residents.” 

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Le Drian also acknowledged that Kiev’s Western backers (France among them) are pushing hard for Ukraine’s negotiators to hold a tough line, even as it’s the Ukrainian people under the bombs:

“We have a very clear objective, to not give up anything and to intensify our efforts until a total ceasefire across the whole of Ukraine’s territory and real negotiations,” the French top diplomat said.

He further repeated by now familiar calls for Europe to boycott Russian hydrocarbons. “While we don’t all have the same dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, we will have the same interest in exiting them (in Europe),” he said. 

“Demining” on the #Kyiv#Warsaw highway pic.twitter.com/S35CKX5jOp

— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) April 1, 2022

Meanwhile on the battlefield, while there are reports of a significant Russian troop drawdown from the Chernihiv region, according to the local governor’s words Friday, even as large-scale fighting has reportedly erupted around the capital of Kiev – from which the Russians earlier vowed they would also withdraw.

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As to Chernihiv in the north, the governor assessed

Chaus said it was still too early for Ukrainian forces in the Chernihiv region to let their guard down as Russian troops “are still on our land”. Russia said on Tuesday it would scale down operations in the Chernihiv and Kiev regions.

And Bloomberg also observes:

Eleven villages in the southern Kherson region and several others in the Chernihiv region northeast of Kyiv have been returned to Ukrainian control, according to the military’s General Staff. Shelling of towns and villages along the contact line in the east continued overnight, with civilian casualties reported after nine apartment buildings and nine private houses were shelled.

The intensity of shelling declined in Chernihiv and Kharkiv, although a missile hit the center of Kharkiv Thursday night

But this same level of draw down doesn’t appear to have yet been initiated near the Ukrainian capital. The city’s mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, has described there are “huge” battles underway north and east of Kiev, according to Reuters.

East of #Kyiv, Russian forces aren’t withdrawing, they are more clearly being routed, with Ukrainian forces taking Nova Basan, and 10 more villages, likely leaving some Russian units stranded.

Video from Nova Basan pic.twitter.com/rRVc8cE2KG

— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) April 1, 2022

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“The risk of dying [in Kyiv] is pretty high, and that]s why my advice to anyone who wants to come back is: Please, take a little bit more time,” Mayor Klitschko said, warning area residents. For now at least, this appears to confirm the negative outlook for a major breakthrough ceasefire anytime soon offered by France’s Le Drian. 

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