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Russia talks with Ukraine 'only for show', says former foreign minister

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By Shona Murray
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A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022
A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022   -   Copyright  Vadim Ghirda/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Moscow is only negotiating with Kyiv for "show" and will drag talks on until they know whether they will win or lose in Ukraine, a former Russian foreign minister told Euronews.

Andrei Kozyrev served as Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister between 1990 and 1996 as the Soviet Union was collapsing and transitioning into the Russian Federation.

Asked whether he expects the ongoing talks between Kyiv and Moscow to lead to a breakthrough, he said: "I think it's just a show and they (Russia) will not negotiate until they know for sure that they are losing in Ukraine."

"That's the usual approach. They understand only force," he added.

"They try force on their side. And they meet now with unexpected resistance from the Ukrainians and from the West. Also with sanctions which could be stronger but are strong enough for the moment. But they did not exhaust all the strategy of terror at all.

"Only when they get pushed back — strong pushback — which probably is coming, they will start to think of ways to negotiate for escape," he went on.

'Hard discussions'

Russia launched its military assault on 24 February, triggering a humanitarian crisis as more than 2.8 million people — mostly women and children — have now fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries.

Kyiv and NGOs have also warned of a humanitarian crisis in some besieged cities including Kharkiv and Mariupol from where the evacuation of civilians is arduous — ceasefires have failed with both sides accusing each other of violations — and as aid including food, water, and medicines barely trickles in.

Thousands of civilians have already lost their lives, according to Ukrainian authorities, with mass graves dug out in Mariupol. The UN Human Rights Office has so far confirmed at least 636 fatalities although it stressed on Monday that "these figures are likely much higher as reports are still being corroborated amid increasingly intense clashes."

Ukraine also claims that more than 13,500 Russian soldiers have been killed. Moscow claimed it lost 498 troops during the first week of fighting and has confirmed only a handful of fatalities since.

The two countries have so far held four rounds of talks at the border with Belarus with negotiations set to resume on Tuesday.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, described them on Monday as "hard discussions", adding that each party "actively express their specified positions".

Zelenskyy was similarly cautious on Monday, saying the negotiations were going "pretty well", adding nonetheless: "But let's see."

For Kozyrev, Russia's reported appeal to China for assistance shows President Vladimir Putin is "definitely in a desperate position" and that it will come at a cost.

'Chinese are now good business'

"I very much doubt that China would ever jump into a military conflict (...) China, you know, they are following their own interests. And their interests, of course, was and probably still is that Russia, that Putin kind of paralyses the West because that serves Chinese interests since they have growing control issue with the West," he said.

"And be sure the Chinese are now good business, and they will ask for considerable discounts for Russian raw materials," he added.

Western countries have responded to the conflict by slapping sanctions on Russia. The European Union approved a fourth round of restrictive measures on Monday evening which will see Russia stripped of its most-favoured trade status — allowing for punitive tariffs — as well as impose bans on the import of Russian steel products and on the export to Russia of EU luxury goods.

Previous rounds of sanctions targeted key Russian banks — stripping them of their ability to do business with foreign banks — as well as hundreds of individuals and entities deemed to be helping the country bankroll or orchestrate the invasion of Ukraine including oligarchs and other businesspeople, parliamentarians, ministers and military officials.

Any export of product that could be used by the Russian military has also been barred while the EU and its NATO allies have also provided Ukraine with lethal weapons.

Yet Kozyrev told Euronews he believes "NATO could and should be more active."

"Putin is bold enough to say that the supply routes which are used by the major countries and by America are legitimate targets. If I were them or America and the Pentagon, I would say OK, but we'll put our patriots near the Ukrainian border, all of those aircraft systems and we will shoot at anyone who shoots our routes because our routes are legitimate," he added.

"There is also room for the Europeans with some sanctions, much more sanctions, because these sanctions, which have now been imposed on Russia, they are going to warm up. It takes time. It's a minimal one or two months before they start trilogues. But something immediate should be done," he stressed.