Talks between Russia and Ukraine officials have begun on Belarus’s border

Ukraine rejects Russian demand to surrender besieged Mariupol

Feb 28, 2022: Talks have begun between the Russian and Ukrainian authorities on the Belarusian border as diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions on Russia deepen four days after the invasion of Ukraine.

The talks began on Monday, with Ukraine demanding an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Russia’s aim in negotiations is as yet unclear with the Kremlin being cagey about their motivations.

It was not clear if any progress could be made after President Vladimir Putin launched an attack on Thursday and placed Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday. The Interfax news agency reported Monday that Russian forces had captured two small towns in southeastern Ukraine and the area around a nuclear power plant.

The talks are taking place on the border with strong Russian ally Belarus, where a referendum on Sunday approved a new constitution ending the country’s non-nuclear status at a time when the former Soviet republic of Ukraine was under attack. Belarus, a former Soviet republic has become a launch pad for Russian troops invading Ukraine.

The Western leadership has reacted strongly to the attack, with sanctions that cut off Moscow’s major financial institutions from successive Western markets, causing Russia’s ruble to fall 30 percent against the dollar on Monday. Countries also increased their arms supplies to Ukraine.

On Monday, blasts were heard before dawn in the capital Kyiv and in the major eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian authorities said. But Russian ground forces’ attempts to capture key urban centres had been repelled, they added.

The head of Donetsk’s regional administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on television on Monday that fighting had been going on overnight around the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. He did not say whether Russian forces had gained or lost ground, nor did they provide any casualty figures. At least 102 civilians have been killed and 304 injured in Ukraine since Thursday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday, but the actual number is expected to be “quite high”.

More than half a million people have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.

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