(NEW YORK) — Delegations from Ukraine and Russia held talks Monday morning on Belarus’ border in an attempt to end Moscow’s invasion as Russian troops continue to attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to send a delegation to meet with Russian negotiators during a phone call Sunday with Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s president’s office announced.
The two sides began talks Monday at the Pripyat River on the border, north of Chernobyl, the spokesperson said, an area that is currently under Russian military control.
Roughly six hours after the talks began, they ended with both sides reporting back to officials in their respective capital cities ahead of a possible second-round to talks.
“The Ukrainian and Russian delegations held the first round of talks today, the main purpose of which was to discuss the issues of a ceasefire on the territory of Ukraine and hostilities. The parties identified a number of priority topics on which certain decisions were outlined,” Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the president of Ukraine, said in a statement following Monday’s talks.
Podolyak added, “In order for these decisions to get some opportunities for implementation, logistical solutions, the parties leave for consultations in their capitals. The parties discussed the possibility of holding a second round of negotiations in the near future, at which these topics will receive concrete development practice.”
Ukraine has said the key issue for the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops. Russia has signaled it wants to discuss Ukraine adopting “neutral status.”
The Ukrainian delegation included Podolyak; David Arahamiya, a member of the Servant of the People political faction; Oleksiy Reznikov, the minister of Defense of Ukraine; Andriy Kostin, the first deputy dead of the Ukrainian Delegation to the Tripartite Contact Group; Rustem Umerov, a member of the Parliament of Ukraine; and Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytsky.
Russia’s delegation includes officials from the foreign and defense ministries and presidential administration.
The talks are the first between the two sides since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Thursday, but Zelenskyy, in a televised address, said he had little hope of a breakthrough.
“I will be honest, as always: I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try,” Zelenskyy said. He added that if there was a “chance” to end the war, he should take part in the talks.
As the talks got underway, French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin spoke by phone.
According to Macron’s office, Putin purportedly agreed to halt all strikes against civilian targets, preserve civilian infrastructure and secure main roads, in particular, the road south of Kyiv.
During the call, Macron reiterated a request of the international community to end the Russian offensive against Ukraine and reaffirmed the need to implement an immediate ceasefire. Macron also called on Putin to respect international humanitarian law and the protection of civilian populations as well as the delivery of aid in accordance with a resolution brought by France to the United Nations Security Council.
According to a readout of the call released by the Kremlin, Putin told Macron Russia is open to negotiations with Ukrainian representatives and expects the talks will lead to the “desired results.” During the call, Putin denied that Russian forces are attacking civilian targets, according to the Kremlin’s readout.
The two leaders agreed to speak again in the coming days.
Ukraine had earlier rejected a proposal from Russia to hold the talks in the southern Belarusian city of Gomel, on the grounds that Belarus is directly involved in Russia’s attack, having hosted the Russian invasion force that is now moving south on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and letting Russia fire missiles from its territory.
The Kremlin has signaled it wants to hold talks where Zelenskyy will discuss “neutral status” for Ukraine, in effect hoping to negotiate Kyiv’s terms of surrender. But Zelenskyy’s administration has said while it wants talks to end the killing in Ukraine, it will not make concessions.
“We will not surrender, we will not capitulate, we will not give up a single inch of our territory,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said at a press conference.
While brokering the meeting, Zelenskyy said Lukashenko has promised that no missiles or aircraft would carry out strikes on Ukraine while the negotiations were underway. But in an unpromising sign for the talks, Ukrainian officials said Belarus had launched at least two Iskander ballistic missiles at Ukraine on Sunday after the agreement to meet was reached.
It was also Lukasheko who suggested that Russian and Ukrainian delegations meet at the Belarus-Ukraine border, Zelenskyy said, adding that though he is not optimistic a resolution will be reached, he does not want there to be any doubt that he did not try to stop the war.
The diplomatic effort came as Russian troops continued to try to press their attack in Ukraine but faced a fierce defense from Ukrainian forces. In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast, Ukrainian defenders succeeded in beating back Russian units during street fighting.
The momentum of Russian forces in Ukraine appears to have been slowed by fuel and logistics shortages, as well as “stiff resistance,” a U.S. senior defense official told ABC News on Sunday.
The official also credited the slowdown of the Russian invasion to resistance by Ukraine.
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