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Putin orders the preparation of proposals for “hostile countries” to pay for gas in rubles

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Ukraine is ready to declare its neutrality and consider a compromise over disputed areas in the east of the country to secure peace ahead of peace talks in Turkey on March 29.

Ukraine’s priorities during the talks will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, Zelenskiy said. tell the nation in his late evening speech on March 27.

“We are looking for peace, really, without delay,” he said. “There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey.”

Live briefing: Russia invades Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

Repeating earlier statements, Zelenskiy said the offer of security guarantees would include keeping Ukraine nuclear-free.

He told reporters that the issue of neutrality – and agreeing to stay out of NATO – should be put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after the withdrawal of Russian troops. He said a vote could take place a few months after the troops leave.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a ceasefire was the most his country could hope for from the talks. “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to host the talks during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 27 and called for a ceasefire and better humanitarian terms, his office said.

In a televised address following a cabinet meeting on March 28, the Turkish leader said the separate phone calls he held with Zelenskiy and Putin were progressing in a “positive direction”. He did not specify.

Erdogan also said he would meet the Ukrainian and Russian delegations “briefly” before their March 29 talks. Previous discussions between the parties, both in person and via videoconference, have not progressed.

More than four weeks into its unprovoked invasion, Russia has failed to capture any major Ukrainian cities and signaled on March 25 that it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the region. Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian military for the past eight years.

Despite this announcement, Russian troops continue to try to concentrate around kyiv, according to a declaration March 28 from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army. “Russian troops continue their unsuccessful attempts to take positions from which they could attack or encircle kyiv,” he added.

A senior US defense official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Russian forces remained largely in defensive positions near kyiv and made little progress elsewhere in the country.

The mayor of Irpin, a northwest suburb of Kyiv that has seen some of the heaviest fighting near the capital, said the town had been “liberated” from Russian troops. Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy later made the same comment in televised remarks.

British military intelligence said on March 28 that Russia had gained more ground in the south near Mariupol as it fought to seize the port.

Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said the town on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and needed to be completely evacuated. He said around 160,000 civilians were trapped in the city without power.

Data released by Boychenko’s office showed that 90% of buildings had been damaged and 40% destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens and factories. Boychenko also said nearly 5,000 people have died in the city since Russia launched its invasion.

Another official, Tetyana Lomakina, presidential adviser now in charge of humanitarian corridors, told AFP that about 5,000 people had been buried, but said burials stopped 10 days ago due to the lawsuit. bombings.

She added that the number of people killed could only be estimated.

Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun told CNN that Mariupol was in danger of falling. She said it was a “hopeless situation for all of us”. While Mariupol hasn’t fallen yet, she said, “It probably will.”

In Washington, US President Joe Biden told reporters he had “not apologized” for saying Putin “couldn’t stay in power”.

The words came at the end of a speech in Warsaw on March 26 to cap off a visit to Europe last week, causing a stir when interpreted as a call for regime change.

On March 28, Biden said the comment was an expression of “moral outrage,” not a new policy. He added that he was reacting to behavior “that makes the whole world say, ‘My God, what is this man doing?'”

With reports from AFP, AP, dpa, CNN and Reuters