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Russia pounds Ukraine with bombs, ceasefire talks resume

A defiant Russia showed no sign of stopping its takeover of Ukraine as its military brutally pounded cities with bombs and its top diplomat blamed the West for bringing the world to this breaking point.

(CN) — Russia's onslaught in Ukraine entered its eighth day on Thursday and saw no letup in Moscow's bombing of cities as intense fighting was reported across much of the eastern half of the country and in its southern territories on the Black Sea.  

For the past two days, Russia has intensified its bombing of Ukrainian cities with artillery and warplanes, killing ever more civilians and Ukrainian forces. Ukraine’s emergency services says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed.   

Thursday saw more devastating and sickening images of bombs raining down on Ukraine and causing widespread destruction as Russia tries to pummel Kyiv into submission and surrender.  

A huge military convoy moving on Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people, remained positioned outside the city but it has not moved into the urban center and Russian forces have failed to encircle the city as they encounter heavy resistance, according to an analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. Experts believe the convoy was slowed by the need to refuel and resupply.  The Study of War Institute said it appeared Russia was moving more troops from the Pacific Ocean toward Ukraine, an indication that the invasion is not going well for Moscow.  

A glimmer of hope for a ceasefire opened as delegations from both sides sat down for a second round of talks at a site along the Polish and Belarusian borders. Afterwards, representatives said a ceasefire may be possible to allow for humanitarian corridors. Still, the prospects for ending the war through diplomacy appear slim.  

Also Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the “only way to stop the war.” Zelenskyy has given daily speeches from an undisclosed bunker, likely inside Kyiv.   

“We are not attacking Russia and we do not plan to attack it. What do you want from us? Leave our land,” Zelenskyy said.   

He said he must sit down with Putin to end the war, though he added he did not want to speak with Putin at an enormously long table the Kremlin leader has used for discussions with other leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.        

“Sit down with me. Just not 30 meters away,” Zelenskyy said.   

Despite his call for direct talks, the Ukrainian president persisted to call on Ukrainians to fight and he pleaded with the West for more military aid and to reconsider enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a step NATO has refused to do because that could draw the West into war with Russia.   

“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes,” he said. “If we are no more, then God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next. Believe me.”  

There is no indication that Russia plans to invade other countries, at least not at this point. But Ukraine’s westward move and NATO’s eagerness to include it into the anti-Russian military alliance has been a source of deep frustration and anger inside the Kremlin. Putin has for years warned the West against making Ukraine a NATO member. 

In December, Putin called Ukraine’s membership in NATO a “red line,” but despite such heated language the United States and its allies stepped up arms shipments and rhetoric about Kyiv joining the alliance.  

Just days before the Feb. 24 invasion, Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference that Ukraine might reconsider its decision in 1994 to remove nuclear weapons from its territory. Belarus and Kazakhstan signed onto the same agreement in 1994 to de-nuclearize.   

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NATO and Western leaders argued that Putin would only be deterred from invading Ukraine if it was a NATO member or, if that wasn’t possible because Russia was already waging a war in Donbas and Crimea against Ukraine, then providing Kyiv with so many weapons and expertise that Putin would see it as too dangerous and costly to attack.       

Still, Russia has pointed to Zelenskyy’s nuclear statement as a further motive for its invasion of Ukraine and its brutal campaign to “de-militarize” its large southwestern neighbor.    

In the weeks of escalating tensions prior to Putin’s invasion, Russia repeatedly accused NATO of violating assurances Western leaders gave Soviet and Russian leaders in 1990 and 1991 that NATO would not expand eastward.   

Thursday saw the Kremlin go on the offensive diplomatically with Putin delivering a speech and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holding an hour-long news conference with Western journalists who peppered him with scorn.  

In his speech, Putin tried to counter Western claims that Russian’s invasion is not going according to plan and potentially failing spectacularly in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance and due to poor planning.   

“I want to say that the special military operation is proceeding strictly in line with the timetable. According to plan. All the tasks that have been set are being successfully resolved,” Putin said in his televised comments. He called Russian soldiers “heroic” and said the families of troops killed during the fighting would be compensated.  

“Now on Ukrainian territory, our soldiers and officers are fighting for Russia, for a peaceful life for the citizens of Donbas, for the de-Nazification and demilitarization of Ukraine, so that we can’t be threatened by an anti-Russia right on our borders that the West has been creating for years.”   

He said Ukrainians and Russians were “one people”, but that Ukrainians were “threatened and brainwashed.”  

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged logistic center after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Putin also used his speech to undermine Ukraine’s image on the world stage by highlighting reports that foreigners such as Chinese, Africans and Indians have become the victims of racism in Ukraine. There have been numerous reports of Africans and other foreigners being denied entry onto evacuation trains, made to walk to leave the country and getting beaten by Ukrainian forces. There are also reports of non-white war refugees being attacked by racist nationalists after crossing into Poland. China warned its citizens after a Chinese national was shot while trying to evacuate.  

In his news conference with Western journalists, a defiant Lavrov accused the West of bringing the world to this dangerous breaking point by spending years not listening to Russia over its fears about NATO expansion onto its borders and for ignoring the eight-year-long conflict in Ukraine's Donbas region. He said Russia was forced to act to protect itself.  

He rejected the notion that the invasion has been a diplomatic fiasco and left Russia isolated on the world stage. Instead, he argued that much of the world understands that Russia was coerced into the invasion because of U.S. designs to destabilize Russia.      

“I'm sure that the world is listening to Russia but if we are heard, I don't know,” he said, as translated by RT, the Russian state news outlet, which was banned in the European Union Wednesday.    

“I think the majority [of nations] understands what we are talking about, but they have to follow the harsh dictate” of the West, he said, trying to explain why an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned Russia for its invasion.    

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“To be frank, it's bad of course,” he said about the war. “People are dying, soldiers and especially civilians, women and children.”   

But he accused the West of turning “a deaf ear” to the thousands of people killed in the eight-year-long conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists. About 14,000 people were killed there after the conflict erupted in 2014 following the U.S.-backed overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president during the so-called “Maidan Revolution.”  

He accused the U.S. of controlling Ukraine and using it to undermine Russia.    

French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly told Putin in a telephone call Thursday that he was making a “major mistake” and that the war would cost Russia dearly over the long term, a French official told Reuters. Before the war started, Macron led Western efforts to de-escalate tensions, but he failed to persuade Putin. In the past, Macron has talked about the need to make Russia a friend of the West.  

Putin reportedly initiated the call with Macron and the Russian leader restated his goals to make Ukraine a NATO neutral state, disarm it, whether diplomatically or by force, and “de-Nazify” the country.  

Putin has accused Kyiv of turning into an anti-Russian government controlled by neo-Nazi ideology, allegations that Western experts and officials call delusional and untrue. They point out that Zelenskyy is Jewish.  

There is, however, evidence that neo-Nazi groups played a key role in the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 during the “Maidan Revolution,” an alleged coup d'etat that sparked a series of events, including Russia's annexation of Crimea, which brought the world to this catastrophic point.  

However, since Putin launched his fratricidal invasion, he's been compared by Ukrainian and Western leaders to Adolf Hitler and accused of potentially sparking another world war.  

“There was nothing in what President Putin said that could reassure us,” the French presidential adviser told Reuters.  

“'You are lying to yourself’,” Macron told Putin, the official said. “’It will cost your country dearly, your country will end up isolated, weakened and under sanctions for a very long time’.”  

International horror is growing as the world watches Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, turn ever more ruthless and brutal with mounting civilian deaths being reported.  

The West is supplying Ukraine's army and resistance fighters with billions of dollars in arms, funds and supplies, but NATO and the European Union are refusing to enter the conflict directly because that would mean going to war with Russia, a nuclear power with one of the world's biggest armies.  

On Thursday, Zelenskyy claimed that 9,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion started on Feb. 24, a figure that cannot be independently verified. Russia's Defense Ministry on Wednesday claimed that 498 of its soldiers have been killed and 1,597 wounded.  

More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine and the United Nations said millions more will become refugees unless the fighting ends soon.  

In Europe, the United States and in other Western-allied countries, Russia's super-rich oligarchs are coming under scrutiny and seeing their assets frozen or seized. The West is imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia in the hope of deterring Putin and causing his regime to collapse.  

Despite the immense economic difficulties, Russia's elite appear ready to turn their back on Europe and the West and move their country closer to China and other Asian nations in what many describe as the beginning of a new Cold War.  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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