Ukraine crisis: Moscow, Kyiv plan second round of talks; Putin bars money transfers abroad as ruble crashes

Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia will return to their capital cities for consultations and have plans for fresh talks, both sides announc...

Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia will return to their capital cities for consultations and have plans for fresh talks, both sides announced Monday after meeting for their first talks since the outbreak of war last week.

"The delegations are returning to their capitals for consultations and have discussed the possibility of meeting for a second round of negotiations soon," Ukrainian negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said.

"We agreed to keep the negotiations going," the Russian delegation head, Vladimir Medinsky said.

This came, as Russian president Vladimir Putin on Monday banned residents from transferring money abroad as part of measures to prop up the ruble which has plummeted in value as a result of Western sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A decree signed by Putin also said that exporters would be required to hold at least 80 per cent of revenue in rubles in a move to prop up the Russian economy.

Russian and Ukrainian officials met for talks Monday amid high hopes but low expectations for any diplomatic breakthrough, after Moscow ran into unexpectedly stiff resistance when it unleashed the biggest land war in Europe since World War II.

Outgunned Ukrainian forces managed to slow the Russian advance, and Western sanctions began to squeeze the Russian economy, but the Kremlin again raised the specter of nuclear war, reporting that its land, air and sea nuclear forces were on high alert following President Vladimir Putin’s weekend order.

Stepping up his rhetoric, Putin denounced the US and its allies as an “empire of lies.”

'Appeal to EU for immediate accession'

Meanwhile, Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed an application for the membership of Ukraine in the European Union. This came hours after he urged the European Union to grant his country "immediate" membership.

"We appeal to the European Union for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure," the 44-year-old leader said in a new video address.

"Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing. I'm sure it's fair. I'm sure it's possible."

He said 16 children had died during the first four days of Moscow's assault and another 45 were wounded as he hailed "Ukrainian heroes."

The UN's human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday that at least 102 civilians, including seven children, had been killed but warned the real numbers were probably far higher.

"Ukrainians have shown the world who we are. And Russia has shown what it has become," Zelensky said.

Putin demands recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea

Putin also told his French counterpart on Monday that the demilitarisation of Ukraine and Western recognition of Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula were prerequisites to ending fighting in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

"Vladimir Putin stressed that a settlement is possible only if Russia's legitimate security interests are unconditionally taken into account, including the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the demilitarisation and denazification of the Ukrainian state and ensuring its neutral status," according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

Macron on Monday called on Putin to spare civilians in Ukraine, the French leader's office said in a statement.

Macron's office said that in a 90-minute phone call he had asked the Russian leader to stop attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, and secure major roadways, in particular the road from the south of Kyiv.

"President Putin confirmed his willingness to make commitments on these three points," the statement said.

Macron also "reiterated the demand of the international community to stop the Russian offensive against Ukraine, and reaffirmed the need to implement an immediate ceasefire," the Elysee said, but did not give the Russian leader's response.

Macron also called on Putin to respect international humanitarian law, and allow aid shipments to reach the population, the statement said.

The call was the latest in a series of exchanges between both men in which Macron first sought to prevent the Russian invasion, and then to limit its damage.

Earlier this month, Macron went to Moscow to talk with Putin in person, returning to Paris with assurances of what he called Putin's "desire to maintain stability and the territorial integrity of Ukraine".

After the latest conversation Monday, Macron suggested the two leaders remain in contact in the coming days "to prevent a worsening of the situation", to which Putin agreed, the Elysee said.

PM Modi chairs high-level meet on Ukraine

Stepping up its efforts to evacuate thousands of Indians stuck in Ukraine, the government on Monday decided to send four Union ministers to the neighbouring countries of the war-torn country to coordinate the evacuation process even as the external affairs ministry said nearly 8,000 nationals have returned in the last fortnight.

The decision to send Hardeep Puri, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kiren Rijiju and V K Singh as "special envoys" of India to coordinate the evacuation process was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also held another high-level meeting in the evening on Ukraine, government sources said.

Official sources said Modi spoke to all four ministers personally to convey the decision that they will be coordinating evacuation efforts on the ground from the countries in Ukraine's neighbourhood.

Scindia will take care of evacuation efforts from Romania and Moldova while Rijiju will go to Slovakia, sources said, adding Puri will go to Hungary and Singh will be in Poland to manage the evacuation.

The decision to send these ministers came a day after Modi asserted that ensuring the safety of Indian students and evacuating them is the government's top priority. Monday meeting was also attended by several ministers, including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla among other senior officials.

Also on Monday, Shringla briefed a parliamentary panel on the situation in Ukraine amid a Russian military offensive and India's efforts to evacuate its citizens through land check-posts with five neighbouring countries, sources said.

They said the foreign secretary informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs that in the next two days the government is planning to operate 13 evacuation flights to the neighbouring nations of the war-torn country and the number of daily flights would be increased to nine. During the briefing, Shringla also said that Russian-speaking officers had been sent to the border check-posts and Indian embassies in Ukraine's five neighbouring countries -- Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova -- to boost evacuation efforts.

Asserting that India has managed to accelerate its efforts to get its nationals out of Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the MEA said a total of 1,396 Indians were brought back home in six flights as part of the evacuation mission.

MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi also said the total number of Indians who have left Ukraine since India issued the first advisory earlier this month is around 8,000.

India is also sending humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, the ministry said.

Calling Modi's decision to send four ministers a "visionary step", Singh told reporters "I am leaving for Poland today and will coordinate with both Ukraine and Poland to facilitate the evacuation of Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine. "The other three ministers are likely to leave on Tuesday.

After Singh's travel announcement, Poland's Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski held a closed-door meeting with the Union minister. Describing his meeting with Singh as "very good", the ambassador said his country is allowing entry to people of all nationalities who are leaving war-hit Ukraine by road and food and shelter will be provided to them.

Amid reports claiming that Indians were facing difficulties on the Poland-Ukraine border, the ambassador said those who are trying to cross to Poland from Ukraine must refer to the social media handles of the Indian embassy in Warsaw and the Twitter handle of Operation Ganga.

"I would like to request all Indian nationals who are trying to cross to Poland from Ukraine that they must refer to the social media of Indian embassy in Warsaw and Twitter account of Operation Ganga," Burakowski told PTI.

Modi had chaired a meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Sunday too.

It was decided at the meeting to further enhance cooperation with the neighbouring countries of Ukraine to expedite the evacuation of Indian students, sources had said. According to sources, India has agreed to send humanitarian assistance including medical supplies to Ukraine at the request of the government there

UN rights council votes to hold debate on Ukraine

The UN Human Rights Council voted Monday to hold an urgent debate about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, further isolating Moscow which had resisted Kyiv's attempt to spotlight abuses committed in the war.

Russia's attack on Ukraine dominated the start of the UN body's main annual session in the Swiss city of Geneva, and countries rallied around Kyiv's demand to scrutinise Russia's actions.

Ukraine's ambassador in Geneva Yevheniia Filipenko warned that Russia's invasion "was an attack not only on Ukraine".

"It was an attack on every UN member state, on the United Nations and on the principles that this organisation was created to defend," she told the council.

Russia has become an international pariah since its invasion Thursday, and rejected the call for the debate and demanded the issue be put to a vote.

But 29 of the council's 47 members backed Kyiv's request, while only five voted no, including Russia and China. The remaining 13 countries abstained.

US ambassador Sheba Crocker hailed the result as proof that "Russia is totally isolated at the council".

The debate on the conflict in Ukraine is to take place Thursday, when the council will consider a draft resolution presented by Kyiv.

It calls for a high-level investigation into alleged violations committed in the conflict, dating back to 2014 when the Kremlin annexed Crimea and supported a separatist movement in Ukraine's east.

In her opening statement Monday, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said "throughout history, there have been moments of profound gravity, that cut the course of events between a 'before' and a very different, more harmful, 'after'."

"We are at such a tipping point," she warned.

Her office said more than 100 civilians, including seven children, have been killed in the five days since the invasion began, warning the true toll was likely higher.

The UN refugee agency said more than half a million people have already fled into neighbouring countries.

Lavrov visit cancelled

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had been scheduled to address the rights council Tuesday, was forced to cancel his trip. Russia's mission in Geneva said Monday this was because of "an unprecedented ban on his flight in the airspace of a number of EU countries".

The EU banned all Russian carriers from its airspace over the weekend.

Switzerland also decided Monday to join the harsh sanctions and closed its airspace to Russian aircraft, although it made an exception for diplomatic flights.

Lavrov will likely still address the rights council Tuesday via video message, as will his US, British and European Union counterparts.

Ukraine's top diplomat is scheduled to do the same on Wednesday.

Ukraine's raging conflict is expected to deepen the increasing polarisation seen at the council in recent years.

The main actors in the conflict are currently members of the already polarised council, including Russia, Ukraine and the United States, which rejoined last month after having been withdrawn by former president Donald Trump in 2018.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will use his speech to the council Tuesday to "spell out clearly the threat posed by Russia", his spokesman Ned Price said.

Rights groups in Geneva have called on the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia's membership in the rights council over the invasion.

At least 11 killed in Kharkiv

At least 11 people were killed and a dozen others were injured in Russian shelling on Ukraine's Kharkiv city on Monday, the regional governor said.

"The Russian enemy is bombing residential areas," Oleg Sinegubov, wrote on the Telegram messaging app, saying, "As a result of the bombardments that are ongoing, we cannot call on the emergency services. Currently there are 11 dead and dozens wounded", he said. On Sunday morning, two large explosions were heard in Ukraine's capital Kyiv

Traditionally neutral Swiss adopts sanctions

Traditionally neutral Switzerland will adopt all the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including against President Vladimir Putin, Bern said Monday.

"This is a big step for Switzerland," Swiss President Ignazio Cassis told a press conference, after the neutral Alpine nation had for days hesitated over whether to join the international move to sanction Moscow over the attack on its neighbour.

As the European Union last week slapped Russia with biting sanctions after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bern initially said only that it would ensure that those penalties could not be circumvented via Switzerland.

But following a government meeting Monday, Switzerland announced it was now fully onboard with the sanctions.

"Switzerland will implement the sanctions in coordination with the EU," the government, known as the Federal Council, said in a statement, adding that these were "primarily goods and financial sanctions."

But they also included the freezing of the assets of persons and companies.

In particular, the government said Switzerland would with "immediate effect" impose the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

'Responsible' 

"In so doing, Switzerland is responding to the serious violations of international law for which these individuals are responsible," it said.

The announcement came as Russia's mission in Geneva announced that Lavrov, who had been scheduled travel to the Swiss city on Tuesday to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, had been forced to cancel his trip due to the "anti-Russian sanctions" imposed by EU countries.

The Swiss government said Monday that it would also close Swiss airspace to all flights from Russia and to all movements of aircraft with Russian markings, except for flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes.

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter meanwhile told reporters that five oligarchs close to the Russian president and who had strong ties to Switzerland had been banned from entering the country.

And Bern said it had decided to partially suspend a 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, although holders of diplomatic passports would still be permitted to enter Switzerland without a visa.

Switzerland had come under increasing pressure to get in line with the EU and US sanctions against Russia, with nearly all political parties backing the move.

And on Saturday, as many as 20,000 demonstrators marched in Switzerland in solidarity with Ukraine, with many loudly calling on Bern to impose sanctions.

Before shifting its approach, the government said it had carefully considered "Switzerland's neutrality and peace policy considerations", but that "Russia's unprecedented military attack on a sovereign European country was the deciding factor."

Bern stressed though that it remained willing to "actively contribute to a solution to the conflict through its good offices."

It also said Switzerland would deliver 25 tonnes of relief supplies to Poland within coming days to help people in need in neighbouring Ukraine.

Russia bans airlines from 36 countries

Russia announced Monday it was banning flights by airlines from 36 countries including Britain and Germany in response to a slew of bans on its planes. Moscow's statement came as Russian airlines are now unable to enter the airspace of the vast majority of European countries as well as Canada. Its list includes Jersey, which is a dependency of the UK, and Gibraltar, a British overseas territory.

Russia's civil aviation authority said it was bringing in the restrictions "as a retaliatory measure for the ban by European states on flights by civil aviation operated by Russian airlines or registered in Russia". Airlines will only be able to enter Russian airspace with a special permit.

Last week Russia banned UK airlines after Britain barred Aeroflot, the country's flagship carrier, as well as private jets. The European Union announced Sunday that it was closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, including private jets. These measures will mean airlines have to make long detours on some routes, potentially raising the cost of tickets.

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India World News: Ukraine crisis: Moscow, Kyiv plan second round of talks; Putin bars money transfers abroad as ruble crashes
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