War in Ukraine: Russia rejects pull-out from Ukraine as condition for talks

Russia has said Western demands it should pull out completely from Ukraine as part of any future talks to end the war effectively rule out any such negotiations, as strikes continued.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated Russian president Vladimir Putin remained open to talks, but the Western demand that Moscow first withdraws its troops from Ukraine is unacceptable.

Mr Peskov’s comments came as Mr Putin spoke on the phone on Friday morning with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Mr Scholz’s office said he made clear to Mr Putin “there must be a diplomatic solution as quickly as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops”.

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On Thursday, US President Joe Biden also indicated he would be willing to talk to Mr Putin if the Russian president demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion and pull out of Ukraine.

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Picture: Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

A statement issued by the Kremlin after the phone call with Mr Scholz said Mr Putin again blamed the West for encouraging Ukraine to prolong the war by supplying it with weapons.

Mr Putin also said recent crippling Russian strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “forced and inevitable” after Ukraine allegedly bombed a key bridge to the Crimean peninsula — which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 — and energy facilities.

Russian forces have been bombarding Ukraine’s critical infrastructure since October, leaving millions without electricity amid cold winter weather.

Mr Scholz’s office said in the phone conversation with Mr Putin he “condemned, in particular, the Russian air attacks on civilian infrastructure” in Ukraine and said Germany was committed to continuing to help Ukraine defend itself.

Russian forces kept up rocket attacks on infrastructure and airstrikes against Ukrainian troop positions along the contact line, the Ukrainian general staff said, adding Moscow’s military push has focused on a dozen towns, including Bakhmut and Avdiivka — key Russian targets in the embattled east.

A top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, citing military chiefs, said since Russia invaded on February 24, 10,000 to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action. This was far below estimates from Western leaders.

“We have official figures from the general staff, we have official figures from the top command, and they amount to between 10,000 and 12,500-13,000 killed,” Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Thursday. He also said civilian casualties were “significant”.

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Mr Zelensky’s office reported at least three civilians were killed on Friday and 16 wounded in Ukraine in the past 24 hours.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the office’s deputy head, said on Telegram that Russian forces had attacked nine south-eastern regions with heavy artillery, rockets and aircraft.

In a press briefing in Kyiv, United Nations-backed human rights investigators called for the creation of a “victims’ registry” that could help people affected by the war to receive help quickly.

Pablo de Greiff, a member of the team mandated to look into rights abuses by the Human Rights Council, said “victims have needs that require immediate attention”.

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