Russia rejects pullout from Ukraine as condition for talks

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Russia said on Friday that Western demands it should pull out completely from Ukraine as part of any future talks to end the war effectively rule out any such negotiations, as Russian strikes continued.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains open to talks but the Western demand that Moscow first withdraws its troops from Ukraine is unacceptable.

Mr Peskov’s comments came as Mr Putin spoke on the phone on Friday morning with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Mr Scholz’s office said he made clear to Putin “that there must be a diplomatic solution as quickly as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops.”

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden also indicated he would be willing to talk to Mr Putin if he demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion and pull out of Ukraine.

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US President Joe Biden said he was willing to speak directly to Vladimir Putin (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Mr Putin also said recent crippling Russian strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “forced and inevitable” after Ukraine allegedly bombed a key bridge to the Crimean peninsula — which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 — and energy facilities.

Russian forces have been bombarding Ukraine’s critical infrastructure since October, leaving millions without electricity amid cold winter weather.

Mr Scholz’s office said that in the phone conversation with Mr Putin he “condemned in particular the Russian air attacks on civilian infrastructure” in Ukraine and said Germany was committed to continuing to help Ukraine defend itself.

Russian forces kept up rocket attacks on infrastructure and airstrikes against Ukrainian troop positions along the contact line, the Ukrainian general staff said on Friday, adding that Moscow’s military push has focused on a dozen towns including Bakhmut and Avdiivka — key Russian targets in the embattled east.

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, citing military chiefs, said that since Russia invaded on February 24 10,000 to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action. This was far below estimates from Western leaders.

“We have official figures from the general staff, we have official figures from the top command, and they amount to between 10,000 and 12,500-13,000 killed,” Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Thursday. He also said civilian casualties were “significant”.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky inspected damaged buildings as he visited the town of Vyshgorod outside Kyiv (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP/PA)

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the office’s deputy head, said on Telegram that Russian forces had attacked nine southeastern regions with heavy artillery, rockets and aircraft.

In a press briefing in Kyiv on Friday, United Nations-backed human rights investigators called for the creation of a “victims’ registry” that could help people affected by the war to receive help quickly.

Pablo de Greiff, a member of the team mandated to look into rights abuses by the Human Rights Council, said “victims have needs that require immediate attention”.

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