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Russia-Ukraine talks fail with no progress on cease-fire, safe passage for civilians

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Members of the Ukrainian forces arrive in a BTR armored personnel carrier (APC) during an urban combat training exercise in Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Russia and Ukraine’s foreign ministers are meeting for talks in Turkey on Thursday, with hopes that a peace deal for Ukraine could be in sight.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba started talks at 8 a.m. GMT in the Turkish city of Antalya. The discussions come two weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor Ukraine.

Among Russia’s demands are legal assurances that Ukraine will never join the NATO — and have so-called “neutral status” regarding the military alliance.

Ukraine has signalled that it is open to discussing Russia’s demand of neutrality, and is ready for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. However, it has also said that it must be given security guarantees from its allies in the U.S. and NATO, and not just from Russia.

Russia has also demanded that Ukraine acknowledges Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, as Russian territory, and recognizes the independence of the pro-Russian separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region. For its part, Ukraine has said it is not willing to cede any of its territory to Russia.

“These talks are going to be very very difficult, that’s the reality,” Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told CNBC Thursday. “The two sides are, in my mind, fairly far apart.”

Ash questioned whether the invasion was even about possible Ukrainian membership of NATO for Russia — which did not look likely in the medium-term anyway — adding: “I really don’t think it was.”

“If you go back to 2014, Ukraine got invaded, Crimea annexed, when it [Ukraine] had no ambitions to join NATO and it’s had neutral status and no military capability and it still got invaded,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe. “In the end, Putin still wants Ukraine,” he said.

There are a number of factors behind Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, according to analysts and strategists, but most agree that it is driven largely by his desire to re-assert Russia’s authority over former Soviet states and stop Ukraine’s pivot towards the West.

‘Horrific’ attack

The talks come as fighting continue to rages across Ukraine, with Russia troops moving in from the north, east and south.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia once again of war crimes on Wednesday following an attack on a children’s hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under near constant attack this week from Russian forces trying to seize the city. The attack took place when there was meant to be a ceasefire.

A car burns after the destruction of Mariupol children’s hospital as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022 in this still image from a handout video obtained by Reuters.
Ukraine Military | via Reuters

A number of children and adults are believed to have been wounded in the attack on the hospital, which also contained a maternity ward, although the number of casualties is yet to be confirmed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, calling it “horrific” in a Twitter post.

Russia has been accused of breaking other ceasefires, and criticized for offering humanitarian corridors that would allow Ukrainian citizens to leave the country, but only via routes leading to Russia or its ally Belarus.

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