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Ukrainian FM vows ‘no surrender’ after ‘difficult’ 1st high-level talks with Russia

Meeting comes amid outrage in Kyiv over a Russian airstrike hitting a children’s hospital, which Lavrov claims was a military base for Ukrainian extremists

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, meets his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, ahead of their tripartite meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Antalya, Turkey, March 10, 2022. (Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP)
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, meets his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, ahead of their tripartite meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Antalya, Turkey, March 10, 2022. (Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP)

Russia and Ukraine on Thursday failed to find a breakthrough on a ceasefire and other humanitarian issues at the first high-level talks between the two sides since Moscow’s invasion.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba met on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in the Turkish resort city of Antalya for three-way talks joined by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Kuleba described the meeting as “difficult,” accusing his counterpart of bringing Russia’s “traditional narratives” about Ukraine to the table.

He said he wanted to emerge from the meeting with an agreement on a humanitarian corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol but “unfortunately Minister Lavrov was not in a position to commit to it,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Referring to the two sides’ failure to make any progress toward a ceasefire, Kuleba suggested Russia was not interested in ending the conflict.

“It seems that there are other decision-makers for this matter in Russia,” Kuleba said, in an apparent reference to the Kremlin.

He also repeated his vow that the country will not give in, saying “I want to repeat that Ukraine has not surrendered, does not surrender, and will not surrender.”

Ukrainian and Russian delegations have also been meeting in Belarus, but the team sent by Russia to those talks is relatively low-ranking, without a minister.

Lavrov appeared to put a greater emphasis on those talks saying: “Today’s meeting has confirmed that the Russian-Ukrainian format in Belarus has no alternative.”

“We are in favor of any contacts… to solve the Ukrainian crisis… but the thing we realized is they must have added value and must not undermine the main track in Belarus,” he said.

Lavrov said that the main topic of the talks in Antalya were humanitarian issues put forward by the Turkish hosts.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sits in front of his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, foreground left, during a tripartite meeting chaired by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Antalya, Turkey, March 10, 2022. (Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP)

Images of the meeting showed the Russian, Turkish and Ukrainian delegations sitting on each side of a U-shaped table, with each minister accompanied by just two other officials.

There was no indication that they had shaken hands ahead of the discussions.

The meeting took place against a backdrop of Ukrainian and international outrage after an attack on a children’s hospital in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol that, according to Kyiv, killed at least three people, including a young girl.

After the meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Lavrov claimed the attacked hospital had been serving as a military base for Ukrainian nationalists.

“This maternity hospital has long been occupied by the Azov Battalion and other radicals. They drove out the women in labor, nurses and general staff. It was the base of the ultra-radical Azov Battalion,” he said, referring to a controversial former unit of the National Guard of Ukraine with neo-Nazi affiliation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on as he gives a press conference after meeting Ukraine’s Foreign Minister for talks in Antalya, on March 10, 2022. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

Lavrov also accused the European Union and other countries of “dangerously” backing the supply of arms to Ukraine.

“We see how dangerously our Western colleagues, including in the European Union, are acting now, which, in violation of all its so-called principles and values, encourages the supply of deadly weapons to Ukraine,” he charged.

Both Kuleba and Lavrov said their countries were willing to continue pursuing a diplomatic solution.

NATO member Turkey, which has cultivated close ties with both Russia and Ukraine, is trying to balance relations with both nations. It has positioned itself as a neutral party, seeking for weeks to facilitate negotiations between the warring sides.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, center, chairs a tripartite meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, right, in Antalya, Turkey, March 10, 2022. (Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP)

Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, has said the aim of the meeting is to pave the way for a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents that would be facilitated by Turkey’s president.

Kuleba said in a video on Wednesday that his expectations were “limited” for the talks and said their success would depend on “what instructions and directives Lavrov is under” from the Kremlin.

Israel has also been seeking to broker a solution through direct talks with President Vladimir Putin.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow for a meeting with Putin and has held several phone calls since then with the Russian leader and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian officials have thanked Israel for its mediation attempts as well as for sending humanitarian aid to civilians fleeing the country, but Zelensky also criticized Bennett last week, saying he felt the premier was not “wrapped in our flag.”

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