Zelensky calls for fresh talks as Russia fires hypersonic missiles

Published March 20, 2022
IN this video grab provided by Roscosmos, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev are seen in yellow flight suits with blue stripes — the colours of the Ukrainian flag — during a welcome ceremony after their arrival at the International Space Station.—AP
IN this video grab provided by Roscosmos, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev are seen in yellow flight suits with blue stripes — the colours of the Ukrainian flag — during a welcome ceremony after their arrival at the International Space Station.—AP

KYIV: Russia on Saturday admitted using advanced hypersonic missiles for the first time in the Ukraine conflict as Kyiv’s embattled leader Volodymyr Zelensky called for urgent peace talks a day after the Ukrainian authorities claimed to have killed a Russian general by a strike on an airfield.

Moscow also claimed its troops had broken Ukrainian defences to enter the strategic southern port city of Mariupol and destroyed radio and intelligence sites just outside Odessa, as Ukrainian authorities on Saturday admitted they had “temporarily” lost access to the Sea of Azov.

Russia said it used the Kinzhal (Dagger) high-precision hypersonic missile, which can elude most defence systems, to destroy an arms depot in Deliatyn, a village near the border with Romania, on Friday. Moscow had never before admitted using the state-of-the-art missile in the combat.

“The enemy targeted our depots” but “we have no information of the type of missile,” Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuri Ignat told AFP. “There has been damage, destruction and the detonation of munitions,” he said. “They are using all the missiles in their arsenal against us.”

Russian cosmonauts wear colours of Ukrainian flag

‘Time to meet, talk’

In a Facebook video, Zelensky said: “This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that several generations will not recover.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Moscow of using the talks as a “smokescreen” as it carried out “appalling atrocities”, saying she was “very sceptical” they would produce a breakthrough.

As Putin’s ground offensive has met with fierce resistance, Moscow has increasingly turned to indiscriminate air and long-range strikes. Friday’s attack on the arms depot was the latest strike in western Ukraine, which until a few days ago had remained relatively unscathed by Russia’s push toward key cities from the north and east.

On Friday, Russian forces destroyed an aircraft repair plant near the airport of Lviv, where millions of people have fled as rockets and shelling continue to rain down on Kyiv.

In Mariupol, rescuers were still searching for hundreds of people trapped under the wreckage of a bombed theatre where over 1,000 people had been seeking shelter.

More than 3.25 million refugees have fled Ukraine and countless others have sought havens in the country’s west, though Putin said his forces were doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties during his latest call with Macron, according to the Kremlin.

Russia’s ally China told US President Joe Biden on Friday that the war was “in no one’s interest,” but showed no sign of giving in to US pressure to join Western condemnation of Russia. Biden warned his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of “consequences” for any financial or military aid for Russia, a move that could turn the standoff into a global confrontation.

Talks stall

In a call to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin accused Ukrainian authorities of stalling talks by “putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals”.

Russia wants Ukraine to disarm and disavow all Western alliances, in particular by joining Nato or seeking closer integration with the European Union — steps that Kyiv says would turn it into a vassal state of Moscow.

Russia’s top negotiator said Friday that Moscow and Kyiv had brought their positions “as close as possible” on a proposal for Ukraine to become a neutral state. But Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky taking part in the negotiations, said his country’s position had not budged.

Cosmonauts in yellow and blue

Meanwhile, three Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station wearing yellow flight suits with blue accents, colours that appeared to match the Ukrainian flag.

The men were the first new arrivals on the space station since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine last month.

Russian space corporation Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft on Friday night and smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.

Video of Artemyev taken as the spacecraft prepared to dock with the space station showed him wearing a blue flight suit. It was unclear what, if any, message the yellow uniforms they changed into were intended to send.

When the cosmonauts were able to talk to family back on Earth, Artemyev was asked about the suits. He said every crew chooses their own.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2022

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