Russian War in Ukraine: Kremlin Pledges Curbing Kyiv Assault as Peace Talks Progress

Written by | Thursday, March 31st, 2022

With Russia’s war in Ukraine into its second month, there has been movement at peace talks in Turkey. Russia will scale back its military operations in Kyiv and Chernihiv, say Russian negotiators, amid a switch to focus on Donbas in eastern Ukraine. But as Moscow’s military offensive stalls in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance, Putin’s forces have been continuing to pound targets from afar. Planned humanitarian corridors to evacuate besieged and terrorized civilians have faltered. Millions of people have fled their homes, while thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed in the fighting, which has left widespread devastation. The French, British, German and Italian leaders were cautious after the announcement of Russian troops’ withdrawal and some progress in the Russian-Ukrainian talks. Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi warned in a telephone conversation against any “slackening of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over”. They also said they agreed to “continue to increase the cost paid by Russia” that was merely trying to buy time to continue its assault on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia has announced the expulsion of 10 diplomats from the three Baltic states in a tit-for-tat response, including three diplomats each from Estonia and Latvia, and four from Lithuania. The move came on Tuesday (29 March), less than two weeks after the three Baltic nations expelled a total of 10 Russian diplomats in a coordinated action earlier this month. Latvia said the Russian diplomats’ activities had been at odds with their diplomatic status and that the decision to expel them had also taken into account Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s foreign ministry said in its statement on Tuesday that it had called in the ambassadors of the three countries to complain about what it described as the “provocative” and “groundless” action taken against its diplomats. A day earlier, Russia also expelled three Slovak and North Macedonian diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after the two European countries expelled three and five Russian diplomats respectively for espionage earlier this month.
In a separate but related development, Russia is working out methods for accepting payments for its gas exports in rubles and it will take decisions in due course should European countries refuse to pay in the Russian currency, the Kremlin said on Monday (28 March). At a meeting of European Union leaders last week, no common position emerged on Russia’s demand last week that “unfriendly” countries must pay in rubles, not euros, for its gas in the wake of the United States and European allies teaming up on a series of sanctions aimed at Russia. Concerns over security of supply were enhanced after the demand, with companies and EU nations scrambling to understand the ramifications. “We are not going to supply gas for free, this is clear,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call. But leaders from some EU member states said Russia’s demand could simply breach supply contracts. “The only big issue in Europe is gas and Russia is asking us to pay in rubles which we don’t have and it’s not in the contract,” the chief executive of Italian energy group Eni, Claudio Descalzi, said on Monday. Earlier this month, the EU announced it would cut its dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and end Russian fossil fuel imports by 2027.

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