Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Calls for Peace Talks With Moscow as Russia Claims Hypersonic Weapon Strike

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow in a video address released Saturday, as Russia reported its first hypersonic missile strike on Ukrainian territory.

“The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk,” Zelenskyy said. “The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover.”

Zelenskyy’s appeal for another round of talks came one day after Russia’s lead negotiator said the sides have moved closer to agreement on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO.  

Vladimir Medinsky said Friday the two countries also are “halfway there” on the question of Ukraine adopting neutral status.  

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted, “Our positions are unchanged. Cease-fire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow expected its negotiations with Ukraine to end with a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Meantime, Russia said Saturday its hypersonic missiles destroyed an underground depot for missiles and ammunition Friday in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region. Russian news agencies said it was the first time Russia used the advanced weapons system in Ukraine since it first invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Russia’s claims that it used hypersonic missiles, which can fly at least five times the speed of sound, were not independently confirmed. A Ukrainian air force spokesperson verified the attack, but said Ukraine had no information on the type of missiles used.

 

Russian forced still stalled  

The latest British defense intelligence assessment of the conflict, made Saturday, concluded that “Russia has been forced to “change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition.”

“This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties,” the ministry warned. 

As the invasion enters its fourth week, Russian troops have failed to seize control of Kyiv, a major objective of the Kremlin.  

On Saturday, Ukrainian authorities said they have not seen any significant developments over the past 24 hours in front line areas. But they said the southern cities of Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Kherson, and Izyum in the east were where the heaviest fighting continued. 

Additionally, Russia was bombarding the cities of Mariupol, Avdiivka, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Novoselydivka, Verkhnotoretske, Krymka and Stepne, damaging at least 37 residential buildings and infrastructure facilities, and killing or injuring dozens of civilians, Ukraine’s National Police said in a statement Saturday on Telegram.

“Among the civilian objects that Russia destroyed are multistory and private houses, a school, a kindergarten, a museum, a shopping center and administrative buildings,” the statement said.

The national police said Russia also attacked the northwestern suburbs of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Saturday, while the regional Kyiv government reported the city of Slavutych north of Kyiv was “completely isolated.”

After Ukraine said Friday it had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of Azov, Moscow said Saturday its troops had breached Ukrainian defenses to enter the strategic southern port city of Mariupol. 

Also Saturday, Ukraine said that a Russian general had been killed in attacks on an airfield outside the southern city of Kherson, the fifth senior Russian officer killed since the invasion began. 

In other developments, a humanitarian corridor in Ukraine’s Luhansk region was set to open Saturday to allow people to evacuate the area, according to regional Governor Serhiy Gaiday, who said food will also be available during the evacuation.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked significant rises in energy and food prices,” the Center for Global Development reported Friday.  The center said its analysis “suggests the scale of price spikes will push over 40 million into extreme poverty.”

“Governments and international agencies will need to act quickly and generously to anticipate and support humanitarian needs—but they should also use the crisis as an opportunity to reform agricultural policies in the EU and U.S. that are undermining food security,” the center said. 

Ukrainian officials have yet to report any casualties in the ruins of a theater hit by a Russian airstrike Wednesday in the southern city of Mariupol.

As of Friday,130 people had been rescued from the theater’s basement, Ukrainian officials said, as the search continues for the hundreds more who could be trapped in the makeshift bomb shelter.  

The theater was bombed despite signs indicating that civilians, including children, were sheltering there. Russia denies striking the theater.  

Human toll

On Saturday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said 112 children had been killed since the war began.

Nearly 3.3 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, according to U.N. estimates.  

The U.N. migration agency said Friday that in addition to those who have left the country, nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine and that another 12 million people have been stranded or unable to leave parts of Ukraine because of heightened security risks or a lack of resources.

US-China talks 

On the diplomatic front, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a rare videoconference call Friday. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden conveyed “very directly, leader to leader, what the implications and consequences would be” if China provided material support to Russia. 

“China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions,” she added. 

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement after the nearly two-hour discussion that “conflict and confrontation” is “not in anyone’s interest.”  

Jeff Seldin, Cindy Saine, Patsy Widakuswara, Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.  

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