First five-hour round of Russia-Ukraine peace talks ends with no progress, PACE votes to offer Ukraine candidate status

First five-hour round of Russia-Ukraine peace talks ends with no progress, PACE votes to offer Ukraine candidate status
Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are underway in the Belarusian border town of Gomel, but no progress has been made so far. / wiki
By bne IntelliNews March 3, 2022

The five-hour talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegates on February 28 ended with no results, as Russia continued to incrementally ratchet up its attacks on Ukrainian cities.

The European Parliament also voted to urge EU members to offer Ukraine candidate status to the EU. The vote is non-binding and the decision to offer Ukraine membership of the EU rests with the member countries, not PACE.

A second round of peace talks is due to start on March 2, but observers remain pessimistic that any sort of deal can be reached. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba noted that Kyiv is still analysing the results of the February 28 meeting and will not go to negotiations if Moscow "announces ultimatums.”

The Kremlin has produced a shopping list of demands many of which will be unacceptable to Kyiv. While the Kremlin has asked Kyiv to declare neutrality and Kyiv responded that it was “open to the idea,” also on the list of demands is that Ukraine “denazify”, “demilitarise”, recognise the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and recognise Russia’s ownership of Crimea.

The de-nazification demand suggests that Moscow is demanding that groups like the far-right Azov battalion be removed from the Ukrainian army, but it is not clear how extensive this demand is. The recognition of the independence of the two Donbas cities and Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimea are both almost certainly non-starters.

Russia is coming to the talks with a very big stick and nothing in the way of carrots other than to stop the attack. A large column of armour has been approaching Kyiv from the north and is currently reported to be some 40 km from the city. The threat of an assault on the Ukrainian capital is palpable and may be given the go-ahead if the talks taking place in the Belarusian border town of Gomel come to nothing. As bne IntelliNews has reported in an op-ed “game of chicken”, Putin has been increasing the threats incrementally to try to put Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy where he has no choice but to concede to Russia’s demands.

As part of this process the Russian forces are increasingly targeting civilian objects. A missile hit the main Independence Square in the eastern city of Kharkiv. The bomb hit the open square, not the government buildings located there, blowing out the windows and causing superficial damage, but it killed 10 people and injured several others.

Zelenskiy said via video that there were “no military targets” on the square and the missile was a “pure act of terrorism.”

Residential areas and apartment blocks, mostly largely empty, have become the increasing target of Russian rockets and there have been some reports of Russian forces encircling several towns in the east but few reports of street fighting so far.

At the February 28 meeting Russia put forward several demands, including the neutrality of Ukraine, the consolidation of the non-government opposition block at the parliamentary level, the recognition of the DPR and LPR within the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, denazification, as well as the rejection of the idea to return the Crimea. Some of these demands were also repeated by Vladimir Putin to French President Emmanuel Macron during a 90-minute phone call on March 1.

On March 1 Zelenskiy spoke to CNN and Reuters journalists, saying that Ukraine is ready to accept neutrality in exchange for "guarantees of common security."

Speaking about the continuation of negotiations with Russia, Zelenskiy demanded that Moscow must first stop shelling Ukrainian cities. However, later he changed his point of view, noting that he was ready for negotiations with Putin himself. The Kremlin said it was "still too early" to talk about the possibility of a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

Separately Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia will not stop the "special operation" on the territory of Ukraine until it reaches its goals. He called the main task protection from the "military threat from the West."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the situation in Ukraine the result of Western connivance, accused the European Union of using illegitimate sanctions instead of dialogue, spoke about the danger of the Zelenskiy regime and promised that Russia would not allow Kyiv to have nuclear weapons. Last week Zelenskiy suggested that as Russia had violated the Budapest memorandum that saw Ukraine give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for a territorial guarantee from Russia, that Ukraine might now rearm with nuclear weapons

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence on Tuesday afternoon urged residents of Kyiv living near the big crossroads to leave their homes. The Russians announced that they would strike at the technological facilities of the SBU and the 72nd main centre of psychological special operations in the Ukrainian capital, The Bell reported.

Zelenskiy also delivered an emotional speech to the European Parliament via video link on March 1. He said that 16 children have been killed in the country as a result of shelling the day before. The president concluded his speech by saying that Ukraine is fighting to become an equal member of Europe.

In the European Parliament, the speech was greeted with applause, while some foreign diplomats, led by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, walked out when Lavrov took the podium at a UN session.

At the same session EU President Ursula von der Leyen said that Ukraine belonged to the “European family” and shared the EU values and that the country “belonged in the EU” but stopped short of saying Ukraine would be admitted any time soon.

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution urging EU member states to give Ukraine candidate status. 637 votes approved the resolution in favour, and only 13 members voted against, 26 abstained.

The resolution also condemns Russia's war against Ukraine, calls on Russia to withdraw all its troops from Ukrainian territory, and calls on EU institutions to grant Ukraine EU candidate status.

The European Parliament does not have the power to make any decisions regarding the process of candidate status or the process of joining the EU, and these decisions are made entirely within the competence of the EU member states.

Last week Zelenskiy formally signed an official application for membership of the EU.