Negotiators have resumed talks to end Russia’s 37-day-old war on Ukraine as humanitarian aid groups struggled to get food and supplies into the besieged city of Mariupol and Ukrainian forces pushed back Russian troops from the capital and another northern city.
The new round of talks on April 1 comes four days after Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met for the first time for face-to-face talks in Istanbul.
“We are continuing talks by video conference,” Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said on Telegram. “Our positions on Crimea and the Donbas have not changed.”
The fresh round of talks comes after Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held face-to-face talks in Istanbul on March 28.
Ahead of the start of the talks, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said Turkey and Germany had offered to serve as security guarantors in any eventual agreement.
Turkey’s president earlier voiced optimism about the talks, though there have been few indications of major progress.
In Mariupol, a local official said Russia continued to block aid from getting into the city despite a pledge to open a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to escape.
The port on the Sea of Azov has been devastated by some of the heaviest urban fighting of the war; thousands are believed to have been killed, and many thousands more have fled.
Ukrainian officials had said a convoy of 45 buses was headed to Mariupol to deliver aid and leave with residents who have been trapped for weeks in the city with little food, water, and other supplies.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the Mariupol mayor, said in a post on Facebook that the city remained closed on April 1 to the aid convoy.
“The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit by private transport,” Andryushchenko said.
In the north, Ukrainian forces have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka near the northern city of Chernihiv and located along main supply routes between the city and Kyiv, British military intelligence said on April 1.
“Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counterattacks to the east and north east of Kyiv,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.
Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas, the ministry added in a statement.
The Ukrainian military said in its daily update on April 1 that some Russian forces from northern Kyiv were withdrawing toward the border with Belarus.
The Russian columns include buses, trucks, and vans, which were stolen by Russian forces, the Ukrainian military said, accusing Russian forces of taking looted property.
Western officials have downplayed suggestions the Russian forces were withdrawing, saying instead they were likely repositioning and resupplying — and possibly gearing up for a new offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Russian officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of mounting a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, not far from the border early April 1. Ukrainian defense officials declined to comment directly on reports.
If confirmed, it would be the first Ukrainian air strike on Russian soil.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised his troops’ advances in his daily video address late on March 31, but warned of “battles ahead” in the Donbas and Mariupol.
Zelenskiy also said he was stripping two generals of their ranks for unspecified offenses.
“Right now I don’t have time to deal with all the traitors, but gradually all of them will be punished,” he said.
Across the continent, European buyers of Russian gas faced an April 1 deadline to start paying in rubles after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to halt gas contracts unless the countries pay in the Russian currency — a demand several European countries have rejected.
But despite the standoff, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom said pipelines were still sending gas westwards on April 1.
There will be 104.4 million cubic meters of gas pumped to Europe on April 1, said Gazprom spokesperson Sergei Kupriyanov in comments reported by the Interfax news agency. That is almost the maximum daily amount allowed under current contracts.
The announcement indicates that shipments continue despite the Kremlin threats to shut off the taps unless payments for gas start coming in rubles.
European governments have said they would study a mechanism that Putin put forth allowing customers to send foreign currency to a designated account at Russia’s Gazprombank, which would then return rubles for the gas purchases.
Several European governments say Putin’s demand for ruble payments would be a breach of the contracts.
As the gas payment issue headed for a showdown in Europe, U.S. President Joe Biden launched the largest release ever from the U.S. oil reserve — 1 million barrels per day — to provide Americans with some relief when filling up their tanks.
Oil prices tumbled after Biden made the announcement, which he said was aimed at fighting soaring gas prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, announced on April 1 that he will lead a support and assistance mission to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant “as soon as possible.”
“It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to #Ukraine,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a tweet on April 1.
Previously, Grossi had said he was “extremely concerned” after Russian forces took control of several of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, including Chernobyl, where of one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents occurred in 1986.
Grossi is expected to hold a news conference later on April 1 upon his return to Vienna.