Despite fierce fighting in the last 24 hours, with Russia’s military forces blasting Ukraine’s capital region and other major cities. Russia has softened its stance in the talks over a possible settlement and is rapidly ‘changing tone’, according to people close to the Ukraine-Russia peace talks.
In fact, a ceasefire seems increasingly likely.
Ihor Zhovkva, a deputy chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said hat the talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives have become “more constructive” and Moscow has changed tone and stopped airing demands for Ukraine to surrender.
This is something Russia had insisted on during earlier stages of talks.
Both Ukrainian and Russian representatives feel reportedly “moderately optimistic” about a ceasefire, as the next round of talks began this afternoon.
Three rounds of talks in Belarus earlier this month have been followed by video calls between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, including one yesterday afternoon.
Defeat in Kharkiv
The reports about the talks’ progress come as Ukrainian forces repelled an attack on Kharkiv by Russian troops last night, who tried to storm the city from their positions in Piatykhatky, a suburb nine miles to the north, according to the head of the Kharkiv region.
The Ukrainian army was able “to push the enemy back beyond its previous position”, Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram. He called it a “shameful defeat”.
There was no information about casualties on either side.
Russian journalist Farida Rustamova, who was well-connected in government circles before fleeing the country last week, has alleged that officials in Moscow never believed Putin would go to war.
When asked how Russian politicians were reacting to the crisis, one source told Rustamova: ‘They’re carefully enunciating the word clusterf**k.
“No one is rejoicing. Many understand that this is a mistake, but in the course of doing their duty they come up with explanations in order to somehow come to terms with it,” she said.
The apparent U-turn comes after it was claimed Kremlin officials are ‘privately denouncing’ Putin’s ‘clusterf**k’ invasion.
Amid the reports about Russia changing its tone, there were reports yesterday that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin sacked eight top generals on Sunday evening in anger over the slow pace of the Ukraine invasion.
Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s security council, reportedly told various Eastern European media that eight Russian commanders have been fired.
“They had about eight generals removed from their posts because they did not complete the task,’ he said. ‘Now new ones have been appointed. I can say that they are desperate.”
Ukraine believes Russia has now lost up to 12,000 men in a fortnight. European and US intelligence put it lower – between 3,000 and 6,000.
Biden coming to Europe
In other developments, US President Joe Biden will travel to Europe next week for face-to-face talks with European leaders about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has announced.
Mr Biden will meet with Nato and European leaders in Brussels on March 24.
The trip follows Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Poland and Romania last week to discuss the growing refugee crisis in eastern Europe sparked by the Russian invasion and to underline the Biden administration’s support for Nato allies.
More EU sanctions
The European Union has slapped sanctions on Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich as part of a new package of measures targeting Russia.
The EU included the Russian oligarch in its updated list of individuals facing an asset freeze and travel bans over their role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The 55-year-old Abramovich was punished by Boris Johnson’s Government last week.
The aluminium magnate was among seven wealthy Russians who had their assets frozen under UK sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich has also been suspended as director of the Premier League club.
The EU said Abramovich “has had privileged access to the president (Vladimir Putin), and has maintained very good relations with him. This connection with the Russian leader helped him to maintain his considerable wealth”.
Luxury good ban
Meanwhile, the UK Government has announced new economic sanctions on Russia, including an export ban of some luxury goods to the country and a hike on import tariffs on a range of goods, including vodka.
A spokesman said: “The UK Government has today announced a ban on exports to Russia of high-end luxury goods, while also hitting hundreds of key products with new import tariffs that represent a 35 percentage point hike on current rates.”
“Russian vodka is one of the iconic products affected by the tariff increases, while the export ban will likely affect luxury vehicles, high-end fashion and works of art.
The reports follow as a series of Russian strikes hit a residential neighbourhood in Kyiv, igniting a huge fire and a frantic rescue effort in a 15-storey apartment building. At least one person was killed and others remain trapped inside overnight.
Shortly before dawn this morning, large explosions thundered across the capital while Russia pressed its advance on multiple fronts.
Elsewhere, a convoy of 160 civilian cars left the encircled port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported, in a rare glimmer of hope a week and a half into the lethal siege that has pulverised homes and other buildings and left people desperate for food, water, heat and medicine.
More companies pull out
Two more British-based companies have said they will pull out of Russia due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine amid heavy sanctions.
Tobacco giant Imperial Brands has announced it has started negotiations to sell its Russian business as it plans to exit the country, where it employs 1,000 people in sales and marketing, and at a factory.
UK-based car dealership business Inchcape has also said it will leave Russia because operating in the country “is no longer tenable”.