(NEW YORK) — Russian forces are continuing their attempted push through Ukraine from multiple directions, while Ukrainians, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are putting up “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.
The attack began Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation.”
Russian forces moving from neighboring Belarus toward Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, have advanced closer to the city center in recent days despite the resistance. Heavy shelling and missile attacks, many on civilian buildings, continue in Kyiv, as well as major cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. Russia also bombed western cities for the first time this week, targeting Lviv and a military base near the Poland border.
Russia has been met by sanctions from the United States, Canada and countries throughout Europe, targeting the Russian economy as well as Putin himself.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Mar 16, 6:44 am
Russia claims Ukraine willing to give up NATO hopes
Russia’s lead negotiator in peace talks with Ukraine said on Wednesday Ukraine had proposed adopting a “neutral status,” along the lines of Austria or Sweden, that is a country that is not part of NATO but has its own military and close ties to the West, including European Union membership.
There has been no official confirmation from Ukraine, though President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly said in recent days that Ukraine understands it will not be allowed to join NATO.
“The preservation and development of the neutral status of Ukraine, its demilitarization Ukraine — a whole complex of questions connected with the size of the Ukrainian army,” Russia’s negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, was quoted as saying by Russian media. “Ukraine proposes the Austrian, Swedish option of a neutral demilitarised state, but within that a state possessing its own army and navy. All these questions are being discussed at the level of the leaderships of the ministry of defense of Russia and Ukraine.”
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, claimed on Wednesday that the negotiators in the fourth round of talks were discussing “concrete formulations” that are “close to agreement.”
An agreement that Ukraine wouldn’t seek to join NATO raises questions. Ukraine’s constitution includes a pledge to join the alliance that would likely need to be changed, which would be highly controversial.
If the Sweden-style status is acceptable to Russia that would also mean the Kremlin has significantly lowered its war aims. Ukraine was not close to joining NATO before the conflict and a commitment not to would be little more than affirming the status quo before Russia’s invasion.
“The goal pursued by Russia at these negotiations is exactly the same as the goal set by Russia at the very beginning of the special military operation,” Medinsky said. “We need a peaceful, free and independent Ukraine, a neutral one, not a member of some military blocs or a member of NATO, but a country that would be our friend and neighbor, so that we could jointly develop relations and build our future and that would not serve as a bridgehead for a military and economic attack on our country. So, our goal is unchanged.”
This is why “practically every digit or letter in the agreements” is being thoroughly discussed with the Ukrainian side, Medinsky said.
“We want this agreement to last for generations, so that our children live in peace, the foundation of which is laid by this negotiating process,” he said.
Russia is also pursuing other demands in the talks, including the recognition of Crimea as part of Russia and the Russian-controlled separatist regions as independent. They also want changes in laws giving more guarantees for Russian-speakers in Ukraine.
Mar 16, 6:34 am
Russian forces ‘struggling’ with terrain: UK military
Russia’s military forces are “struggling to overcome” Ukraine’s terrain as they attempt to push further into the country, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday.
“Russian forces have remained largely tied to Ukraine’s road network and have demonstrated a reluctance to conduct off-road manoeuvre,” the Ministry said in an update. “The destruction of bridges by Ukrainian forces has also played a key role in stalling Russia’s advance.”
Ukraine’s military has “adeptly exploited” Russia’s difficulty moving through the country, “frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces,” the update said.
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