“It doesn’t matter what your foreign minister says. It doesn’t matter if some negotiating group sends us… all these people are nobody, unfortunately,” he told Dutch television.
The Kremlin said Putin held an 80-minute phone call Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany in which he warned against continued Western arms transfers to Ukraine and blamed Western sanctions for the conflict’s disruption of global arms supplies. foods.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops, according to the chancellor’s spokesman, and called on Putin to enter serious and direct negotiations with Zelensky to end the fighting. .
A Kremlin reading of the call said Putin affirmed “the openness of the Russian side to the resumption of dialogue.” The three leaders, who had not spoken for weeks this spring, agreed to keep in touch, he added.
But Russia’s recent progress in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two provinces that make up Donbas, could further embolden Putin. Since he failed to occupy Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russia has set out to seize the last parts of the region not controlled by separatists.
“If Russia managed to seize these areas, it is very likely that the Kremlin will see it as a substantial political achievement and that the Russian people will present it as a justification for the invasion,” the British Ministry of Defense said in an assessment on Saturday.
Russia has stepped up its efforts to capture the cities of Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk, which are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Lugansk.
Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai reported that Ukrainian fighters repelled an assault on Sievierodonetsk, but Russian troops still pressed to encircle them. He later said that Russian forces seized a hotel on the outskirts of the city, damaged 14 high-rise buildings and were fighting in the streets with Ukrainian forces.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said there were clashes at the city’s bus station. A humanitarian center was unable to operate due to the danger, Striuk said, and mobile phone services and electricity were cut off. And residents risked shelling to get water from half a dozen wells, he said.
Some supply routes are working and it is still possible to evacuate the wounded, Striuk said. He estimated that 1,500 civilians in the city, which before the war had a population of about 100,000, have died from the fighting, as well as from a lack of medicine and untreatable illnesses.
Just south of Sievierodonetsk, Associated Press reporters saw elderly and sick civilians being loaded onto soft stretchers and carried slowly up the stairs of an apartment building in Bakhmut on Friday.
Svetlana Lvova, a manager of two buildings in Bakhmut, tried to persuade reluctant residents to leave but said she and her husband would not evacuate until their son, who was in Sievierodonetsk, returned home.
“I have to know that he is alive. That is why I am staying here,” said Lvova, 66.
On Saturday, people who managed to flee Lysychansk described intensifying shelling, especially over the past week, which prevented them from leaving basement bomb shelters.
Yanna Skakova left the city on Friday with her 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons and wept as she sat on a train bound for western Ukraine. Her husband stayed to take care of her house and her animals.
“It’s too dangerous to stay there now,” he said, wiping away tears.
Russia’s advance raised fears that residents could experience the same horrors seen in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, which endured a three-month siege before falling last week. Residents who had not yet fled were faced with the choice of trying to do so now or staying. Mariupol became a symbol of mass destruction and human suffering, as well as of Ukrainian determination to defend the country.
The port of Mariupol reportedly resumed operations after Russian forces finished clearing mines in the Sea of Azov. The Russian state news agency Tass reported that a ship bound for Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia entered the port early Saturday.
In the call with Macron and Scholz, the Kremlin said, Putin emphasized that Russia was working to “establish a peaceful life in Mariupol and other liberated cities in Donbas.”
Germany and France brokered a 2015 Ukraine-Russia peace deal that would have given a high degree of autonomy to Moscow-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine. However, the deal stalled long before Russia’s invasion in February. Any hope that Paris and Berlin will anchor a renewed peace deal now seems unlikely, as both Kyiv and Moscow are taking uncompromising positions.
Ukrainian authorities reported that Kremlin-installed officials in the seized cities began broadcasting Russian news, introduced Russian area codes, imported Russian school curriculum, and took other steps to annex the areas.
Russian-controlled areas of the southern Kherson region have switched to Moscow time and “will no longer switch to daylight saving time, as is customary in Ukraine,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Krill Stremousov, a local official as saying. installed in Russia, as if to say on Saturday.
In his speech on Saturday, Zelensky also accused Russian forces of preventing Kherson residents from leaving, saying they are effectively “trying to take people hostage” in a “sign of weakness.”
The war has caused global food shortages because Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and other staples. Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations over which side has responsibility for keeping the shipments pinned down, with Russia saying Ukrainian sea mines prevented safe passage and Ukraine citing a Russian naval blockade.
The press service of the Ukrainian Naval Forces said that two Russian ships “capable of carrying up to 16 missiles” were ready for action in the Black Sea, adding that only shipping routes established through multilateral treaties can be considered safe. .
Ukrainian officials have pushed Western nations for more sophisticated and powerful weapons. The US Department of Defense did not confirm a CNN report on Friday that said the Biden administration was preparing to send in long-range rocket systems.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoliy Antonov, said on Saturday that such a move would be “unacceptable” and admonished the White House to “drop declarations of Ukraine’s military victory.”
Moscow is also trying to shake Sweden and Finland’s determination to join NATO. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its navy successfully launched a new hypersonic missile from the Barents Sea that hit its target some 1,000 kilometers away.
If confirmed, the launch could spell trouble for NATO travel in the Arctic and North Atlantic. The Zircon, described as the world’s fastest non-ballistic missile, can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead and is said to be impossible to stop with current defense systems.
Last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that Russia would form new military units in the west of the country in response to offers from Sweden and Finland to join NATO.