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Russia Escalates Attacks on Ukraine as Peace Talks Apparently at Impasse

A Ukrainian soldier stands guard amid destruction caused by a March 21, 2022, shelling of a shopping center in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 30, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier stands guard amid destruction caused by a March 21, 2022, shelling of a shopping center in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 30, 2022.

Russia has violated its pledge to scale back military operations on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, as little progress was reported in the latest round of peace talks between the two countries.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that Russia had repositioned a small number of troops around Kyiv in the last 24 hours, but added, “None of them have repositioned to their home garrison.”

“They're leaving Kyiv [and] heading more to the north … away from the city,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, adding that the majority of Russian forces were still around Kyiv as airstrikes continued.

Russia said Wednesday that there was no sign of a breakthrough in peace talks with Ukraine.

The apparent impasse comes as U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country," the White House said in a statement.

"President Biden informed President Zelenskyy that the United States intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid," the White House added, noting the Ukrainian leader updated Biden on the status of negotiations.

In a video address Wednesday, Zelenskyy said, “I've thanked the U.S. for the new package of humanitarian aid worth 1 billion U.S. dollars and an additional 500 million dollars in direct budgetary aid. I've also underlined that now is the turning point.”

He also reiterated concerns that Russia was massing troops for new attacks in Donbas.

“We don't believe anyone, and in any flowery words. There is a real situation on the battlefield,” Zelenskyy said.

Newly declassified U.S. intelligence suggested the more than monthlong invasion of Ukraine was causing rifts between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his senior military advisers.

“There is now persistent tension between Putin and the MOD [Ministry of Defense],” a U.S. official confirmed to VOA on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the information.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield expanded on that to reporters Wednesday.

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” Bedingfield said. “So, it is increasingly clear that Putin's war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term, and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

British military intelligence Wednesday provided further indications of Russia's military struggles.

"Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganize and resupply," theBritish defense attache, Air Vice Marshal Mick Smeath, said, warning Moscow's forces would try to compensate with more artillery and missile strikes.

Russia appeared to signal Wednesday that it was welcoming talks aimed at ending the 36-day-old war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a press briefing that Moscow welcomed the fact that Kyiv had presented a written statement of demands at the start of negotiations in Istanbul, Turkey.

But Peskov also said Russia had not seen anything promising that would lead to a final agreement.

An aide to Zelenskyy said the two sides discussed the terms of a possible cease-fire, along with international security guarantees for Ukraine during Tuesday's session.

Ukrainian negotiators also proposed that Kyiv would adopt a neutral status and commit to not joining NATO or other military alliances in exchange for security guarantees from Western countries.

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