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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Ankara: Ukraine and Russia failed to make progress in halting the conflict and bridging the vast differences between them at the first high-level talks between their foreign ministers since the Russian invasion began.

Russia indicated it will continue attacks until its goals are met, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after the meeting lasting about 90 minutes with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Turkey on Thursday.

“The broad narrative he conveyed to me is that they will continue their attacks until Ukraine meets their demands, and the least of these demands is surrender,” Kuleba said.

Russia is open to serious talks between the two presidents “but those contacts must have added value,” Lavrov told reporters after the meeting. He reiterated that Russia is seeking the demilitarisation of Ukraine.

Hosted by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, this was the most senior in-person meeting between Ukraine and Russia since the Russian attacks began on February 24. It followed two weeks of fighting in which Russia’s plans for achieving a rapid military victory have hit increasing difficulties as Ukraine mounts a determined defence, backed by flows of weapons from the US and its allies.

At the same time. the intensity of the international response in sanctioning Russia’s economy appears to have caught the Kremlin by surprise, with the ruble sinking to record lows, dozens of foreign businesses pulling out of the country and markets pricing in a growing risk of a sovereign default.

Ukraine’s 3 demands

Kuleba had set out Ukraine’s three key demands before the meeting with Lavrov - a ceasefire, an improvement of the humanitarian situation in besieged cities, and the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country.

Russia didn’t plan to discuss a ceasefire at Thursday’s talks because the main negotiations are the ones that have taken place in Belarus, said Lavrov, who gave no commitments on humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian cities. He insisted Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine but is carrying out what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” there.

“We want a Ukraine that’s friendly and demilitarised, a Ukraine in which there isn’t a risk of the creation of another Nazi state, a Ukraine where there won’t be a ban on the Russian language, on Russian culture,” Lavrov said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Putin by phone on Thursday and reiterated their demand for an immediate ceasefire. The three leaders agreed to stay in close touch in coming days, according to a statement from Scholz’s office.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he’s willing to consider some compromises on Russia’s demand that his country abandons ambitions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and adopt a neutral position.

Zelensky has also said that “only after the direct talks between the two presidents can we end this war,” and that there’s been no direct contact between him and Putin.

Ukraine is insisting on security guarantees from neighbours and allies such as the US, the UK and Germany, and won’t cede a “single inch” of its territory to Russia, Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Wednesday from Kyiv.

While Ukraine wants a diplomatic solution, “our first and foremost pre-condition for having such kind of negotiations is immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops,” Zhovkva said.

When he ordered the attacks, Putin set out goals for the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine that included ousting Zelenskiy’s government and replacing it with one friendly to Moscow.

With its forces still failing to gain control of Kyiv and most key Ukrainian cities, despite vastly superior firepower, Russia has modified its stance even as Putin has insisted all of his goals will still be accomplished. It’s demanded Ukraine acknowledge Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which Putin annexed in 2014, and accept Moscow’s recognition of two separatist regions in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.

Three earlier rounds of lower-level talks in Belarus between Russian and Ukrainian officials yielded few results beyond attempts to establish some humanitarian corridors for civilians caught in the fighting.

With more than 2 million Ukrainians fleeing into neighboring countries for safety and millions more displaced, the invasion has already triggered a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale unseen in Europe since World War II.