Putin urged to hold ‘serious negotiations’ with Ukraine’s president Zelensky

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Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz had an 80 minute call with Putin on Saturday  (Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz had an 80 minute call with Putin on Saturday (Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

European leaders urged Vladimir Putin to hold “serious negotiations” with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on Saturday.

French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz asked Mr Putin for an “immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops” as the assault on Ukraine’s Donbas region intensified.

In an 80 minute three-way phone call, the leaders also urged Mr Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters taken as prisoners of war at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, according to a read-out from Mr Scholz’s office.

The Russian president warned Mr Macron and Mr Scholz that western weapons deliveries to Ukraine were “dangerous”, according to the Kremlin.

It comes after Russia claimed to have seized control of Lyman after days of fighting over the Ukrainian town. The claimed success is believed to be key to the next phase of Moscow’s assault in the Donbas region.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky hit back at the claims, saying in a late-night addess: “If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian.”

However the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that it was “likely” that Russian forces had captured most of the town of Lyman.

A satellite image shows the damaged town of Lyman, Donetsk region (Reuters)
A satellite image shows the damaged town of Lyman, Donetsk region (Reuters)

They said in an intelligence update that the success was likely “a preliminary operation for the next stage of Russia’s Donbas offensive”.

The city serves as a regional railway hub and controlling it would give the Russian military a foothold, enabling an advance on larger cities in Donetsk and Luhansk.

“In the coming days, Russian units in the area are likely to prioritise forcing a crossing of the river,” the Ministry of Defence said, adding: “a bridgehead near Lyman would give Russia an advantage in the potential next phase of the Donbas offensive”.

Russian defence ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said that Lyman, which had a population of around 20,000 before the invasion, had been “completely liberated”.

A woman from Siversk carries her belongings during an evacuation near Lyman (AP)
A woman from Siversk carries her belongings during an evacuation near Lyman (AP)

Fighting also continued around Sievierodonestsk and nearby Lysychansk on Saturday.

Ukraine’s peace talks negotiator played down the prospects of reaching an agreement with Russia.

Writing on Telegram, Mykhailo Podolyak said: “Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny. Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?”.

He added: “Russia has proved that it is a barbarian country that threatens world security... A barbarian can only be stopped by force.”

The last known face-to-face negotiations took place on 29 March. Mr Putin told the leaders of France and Germany that Russia was willing to discuss ways for Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea port, the Kremlin said.

The village of Kolodyazi, north of Lyman (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech)
The village of Kolodyazi, north of Lyman (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech)

The grain crisis was also under discussion in Boris Johnson’s call with Mr Zelensky. Mr Johnson spoke about the “intensive work taking place” to export grain out of Ukraine and “avert a global food crisis”, Downing Street said.

“He said that the UK would work with G7 partners to push for urgent progress. The leaders agreed next steps and the imperative for Russia to relax its blockade and allow safe shipping lanes,” a spokesperson said.

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