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Ukraine demands immediate cease-fire as talks with Russia begin

High-stakes talks between Russia and Ukraine began Monday, shortly after the Ukrainian president’s office said the invaded country’s goal for the discussions was an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. The Kremlin said it would not announce its official position ahead of the talks with a Ukrainian delegation as Moscow’s assault entered a fifth day. “I suggest we wait for the talks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “I would not declare any negotiating positions.” Moscow also doubled down on its logic for sending its troops into Ukraine, saying Western arms supplies to Kyiv showed that Russia was right to try to demilitarize its neighbor, Reuters reported. Peskov accused the EU of hostile behavior toward Russia and said the arming of Ukraine was an “extremely dangerous and destabilizing factor.” The spokesman told reporters, without providing evidence, that many Ukrainians were being used as human shields in what he called a crime by Ukrainian nationalists. The Russian and Ukrainian delegations arrived at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border for the first talks since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops Wednesday to invade Ukraine. Putin aide Vladimir Medinsky, who traveled to Belarus for the talks, said Russian officials “definitely have an interest in reaching some agreements as soon as possible.” The Russian leader had vowed to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine when he launched his offensive, accusing Kyiv of orchestrating an alleged “genocide” of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he was skeptical about the possibility of a breakthrough during the high-stakes talks. Meanwhile, the Kremlin declined to comment Monday on the progress of Russia’s so-called “special military operation,” referring questions to the military, according to CNN. “I don’t think this is the time to sum up the results of the [military] operation, we need to wait for completion of the operation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists. The Russian military has acknowledged casualties but has not provided exact numbers. The latest toll for civilian deaths in Ukraine stands at 102, with 304 people injured, but the true figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” the UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday. The dead include seven children, she said, adding: “Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and air strikes.” Bachelet also said 422,000 people have fled Ukraine, while other civilians still in the country are “forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions,” CNN reported. In another development, Zelensky on Monday asked the European Union to “urgently admit Ukraine” to the bloc. “We appeal to the European Union to urgently admit Ukraine using a new procedure,” the president said in his latest video message. “We are grateful to partners for standing with us. But our goal is to be with all Europeans and, to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible,” he said.

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