Ukraine seeks to join EU as round of talks with Russia ends

KYIV, Ukraine — A beleaguered Ukraine moved to consolidate its ties with the West on Monday by signing an application to join the European Union, as the first round of talks between Ukraine and Russia aimed at ending the fighting ended without an immediate agreement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has posted photos of him signing the EU bid, a largely symbolic move that could take years to materialize and is unlikely to sit well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long blamed the West to try to draw Ukraine into its orbit. .

Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Day 5 Key Events List

Russian and Ukrainian officials held their meeting on the fifth day of the war under the shadow of Putin’s nuclear threats and with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine met with surprisingly fierce resistance.

Early Monday evening, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian president said the first round of talks with Russia had ended and the two delegations had returned home for consultations in their capitals.

French Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière addresses the emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Mykhailo Podolyak gave few details other than to say that the talks, which were held near the Ukraine-Belarus border, focused on a possible ceasefire and a second round. could take place “in the near future”.

At this point, Ukraine is many years away from meeting EU membership standards, and the 27-nation bloc is tired of expansion and unlikely to welcome new members of so early.

Also, any addition to the EU must be approved unanimously, and some member states have complicated approval procedures.

Overall, the consensus was that Ukraine’s deep corruption could make it difficult for the country to gain EU acceptance. Yet in an interview with Euronews on Sunday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want them in the European Union.”

Meanwhile, outgunned Ukrainian forces managed to slow the Russian advance and Western sanctions began to weigh on the Russian economy, but the Kremlin again raised the specter of nuclear war, signaling that its land, air and sea nuclear forces were on high alert after Putin’s weekend. ordered.

A damaged and burned military vehicle is seen after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Marinko Andrew)

Intensifying his rhetoric, Putin denounced the United States and its allies as an “empire of lies”.

A tense calm reigned in Kyiv, where people lined up to buy food, water and pet food after two nights trapped indoors by a strict curfew, but video on social networks Socials of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, showed bombed-out residential areas, with apartment buildings rocked by repeated and powerful explosions. Authorities in Kharkiv said at least seven people were killed and dozens injured. They warned that the losses could be much higher.

“They wanted to do a blitzkrieg, but it failed, so they did it,” said 83-year-old Valentin Petrovich, using only his Russian-style first and middle names out of fear for his safety. He described watching the shelling from his downtown apartment.

The Russian military has denied targeting residential areas despite ample evidence of shelling homes, schools and hospitals.

Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, second from left, and Davyd Arakhamia, faction leader of the Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian parliament, third from right, attend the peace talks in the Gomel region of Belarus on Monday, 28 February. , 2022 (Sergei Kholodilin/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Meanwhile, as the Central Bank of Russia worked to shore up the ruble, Putin signed a decree governing foreign currencies, in an attempt to stabilize the ruble.

But that did little to calm Russian fears. In Moscow, people lined up to withdraw cash as sanctions threatened their livelihoods and savings.

Across Ukraine, meanwhile, terrified families huddled overnight in shelters, basements or hallways.

“I sit down and pray that these negotiations will end successfully, that they will come to an agreement to end the massacre, and that there will be no more war,” said Alexandra Mikhailova, crying as she hugged her cat in a makeshift shelter in the strategic southeast. port city of Mariupol. Around her, the parents tried to console the children and keep them warm.

The UN human rights chief said at least 102 civilians had been killed and hundreds injured in more than four days of fighting – warning that figure is likely an undercount – and the Ukrainian president said at least 16 children were among the dead.

More than half a million people have fled the country since the invasion, another UN official said, many of whom have traveled to Poland, Romania and Hungary. And millions have left their homes.

A woman carries her child as she arrives at the Medyka border crossing after fleeing Ukraine, Poland, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Monday’s talks were the first face-to-face talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials since the start of the war. The delegations gathered around a long table with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag on one side and the Russian tricolor on the other.

Zelenskyy’s office said it would demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

But while Ukraine sent its defense minister and other top officials, the Russian delegation was led by Putin’s culture adviser – an unlikely envoy to end the war and perhaps a sign of seriousness with which Moscow is considering talks.

In addition, the United Nations General Assembly, made up of 193 nations, opened its first emergency session in decades in order to deal with the invasion of Ukraine, Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, calling for an immediate ceasefire, maximum restraint by all parties and “a full return to diplomacy”. and dialogue.

A man lights candles during a service for Ukraine at the St. Volodimir Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in New York City. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

It was not immediately clear what Putin was looking for in the talks or in the war itself, although Western officials believe he wants to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with his own regime, rekindling Moscow’s influence in the war. Cold War era.

The Russian leader clearly linked the tightening of sanctions to his decision on Sunday to raise Russia’s nuclear stance. He also cited “aggressive statements” from NATO.

Moscow’s Defense Ministry said additional personnel had been deployed to Russia’s nuclear forces and the high alert applied to nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and long-range bombers.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Monday, said the United States had yet to see any appreciable change in Russia’s nuclear stance.

US and UK officials have downplayed Putin’s nuclear threat as posturing. But for many, the move brought back memories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and fears the West could be drawn into direct conflict with Russia.

In another potential escalation, neighboring Belarus could send troops to help Russia as early as Monday, according to a senior US intelligence official with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Western officials say they believe the invasion has been slower, at least so far, than the Kremlin had expected. British authorities said the bulk of Putin’s forces were about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kiev.

Messages aimed at these soldiers appeared on billboards, bus stops and electronic signs across Kyiv on Monday. Some used profanity to encourage the Russians to leave. Others appealed to their humanity.

“Russian soldier – Stop! Remember your family. Go home with a clear conscience,” it read.

In other battles, strategic ports in the south of the country were attacked by Russian forces. Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov, is “hanging on”, said Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reportedly bombed in the eastern city of Sumy. Ukrainian demonstrators demonstrated against the encroachment of Russian troops in the port of Berdyansk.

A refugee child fleeing conflict from neighboring Ukraine sits in a bus at the Romanian-Ukrainian border, in Siret, Romania, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

With the Ukrainian capital of nearly 3 million under siege, the Russian military has offered to allow residents to leave Kiev through a safe corridor.

In a war waged both on the ground and online, cyberattacks have hit Ukrainian embassies around the world and Russian media.

Western nations have increased the pressure with a freeze on Russia’s hard currency reserves, threatening to bring the Russian economy to its knees. The United States, the European Union and Britain have also agreed to block certain Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which facilitates the transfer of money between thousands of banks and other financial institutions around the world.

In addition to the sanctions, the United States and Germany announced that they would send Stinger missiles and other military supplies to Ukraine. The European Union – founded to secure peace on the continent after World War II – is providing lethal aid, including anti-tank weapons, for the first time.

EU defense ministers were due to meet on Monday to discuss how to get weapons to Ukraine. A train loaded with Czech equipment arrived on Sunday and another was on its way on Monday, although blocking such shipments is clearly a key priority for Russia.

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