Moscow, June 1: Russia said on Wednesday that it did not rule out a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, but that any such talks needed to be prepared in advance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a call that work on a peace document with Ukraine had stopped a long time ago and had not restarted.
Peskov said that people in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donbas must decide their own futures and the Kremlin did not doubt they would make the “best decision”.
Ukraine has previously said that annexation of the regions by Russia would end peace talks between the two sides.
Russia controls 70% of Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk: Luhansk Governor
Russian forces are now in control of around 70% of Sievierodonetsk, a strategically important city in Ukraine’s east, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Wednesday.
“Some Ukrainian troops have retreated to more advantageous, pre-prepared positions,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russian troops have now taken control of most of Sievierodonetsk, one of two provinces in the Donbas, regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai on Tuesday.
Nearly all critical infrastructure in Sievierodonetsk had been destroyed and 60% of residential property damaged beyond repair, he added. Russian shelling had made it impossible to deliver aid or evacuate people.
A Russian victory in Sievierodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets river would bring full control of Luhansk, one of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
A pro-Moscow separatist leader said Russian proxies had advanced slower than expected to “maintain the city’s infrastructure” and exercise caution around its chemical factories.
“We can say already that a third of Sievierodonetsk is already under our control,” Russia’s TASS state news agency quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying.
Gaidai warned Sievierodonetsk residents not to leave bomb shelters due to what he said was a Russian air strike on a nitric acid tank.
The Luhansk People’s Republic’s police force said Ukraine’s forces had damaged it. Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists traded accusations over a similar incident in April.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council aid agency which had long operated out of Sievierodonetsk, said he was “horrified” by its destruction.
Up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity, Egeland said.
“The near-constant bombardment is forcing civilians to seek refuge in bomb shelters and basements, with only few precious opportunities for those trying to escape,” he said.
“Dangerous”: Russia warns US against supplying Ukraine with new arms
The planned delivery of new US weapons to Ukraine, including advanced missile systems, increases the risk of drawing the United States into direct conflict with Russia, Moscow said Wednesday.
“Any arms supplies that continue, are on the rise, increase the risks of such a development,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA Novosti news agency, in answer to a question about the possibility of a confrontation between Moscow and Washington.
On Tuesday, Washington said it will be supplying Ukraine with advanced missile systems, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles.
Both Ukraine and Russia already operate multiple-launch rockets systems, but the HIMARS has superior range and precision.
The HIMARS system that Washington is providing to Ukraine will have a range of about 80 kilometres (50 miles).
According to Ryabkov, the US is determined to “wage war (on Moscow) to the last Ukrainian in order to inflict, as they say, a strategic defeat on Russia”.
“This is unprecedented, this is dangerous,” Ryabkov said.