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Europe's week: Ukraine peace talks offer some hope, but EU-China summit dampens mood

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By Euronews
People shout slogans during a protest by pro-Ukraine people against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Istanbul at the same time as peace talks in Turkey, Tuesday, March 29, 2022
People shout slogans during a protest by pro-Ukraine people against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Istanbul at the same time as peace talks in Turkey, Tuesday, March 29, 2022   -   Copyright  Francisco Seco/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

It was a week of mixed messages from the war.

There were the first signs of significant progress in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, but there was no clear end in sight to the suffering being witnessed.

After another round of talks in Istanbul, Ukrainian officials said their country was ready to declare itself permanently neutral and discuss Russian territorial claims in exchange for ‘security guarantees’ from a group of other nations.

The reaction of Moscow's foreign minister gave some hope that the worst could be over, even if it is likely still far away.

“We regard yesterday’s talks in Istanbul as positive progress, but not as the final result yet," Sergei Lavrov said. "But the fact that the Ukrainian negotiators confirmed the need to ensure a non-nuclear, non-aligned status for Ukraine and its security outside the framework of the North Atlantic alliance is significant progress."

The Ukrainian side made it clear that they want an agreement, but one that is signed by other powers as well – a kind of insurance policy.

"We think that a bilateral agreement with Russia won't be much guarantee, as Russia can always violate bilateral agreements. In a multilateral agreement, Russia will make a commitment to other guarantors as well," Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, said.

Meanwhile, NATO said Russia did not appear to be scaling back its military operations despite Moscow declaring that Russian forces would scale back their attacks, especially around the capital Kyiv.

Diamonds are not forever

Ukraine's president took a swipe at Belgium's decision not to ban the import of Russian diamonds during an address to the country's national parliament.

Much like his addresses to other Western legislatures, Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged members of the Belgian Parliament to stop the city of Antwerp, which is a global hub for diamond trading, from dealing in the precious stone.

"You can do more to help us - to evict the occupants and win precious peace," Zelenskyy told Belgian MPs on Thursday. "I think that peace is more valuable than diamonds in shops."

Belgium's foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmes told Euronews that Ukraine has the full support of the Belgian government and the EU and that no area is off-limits when it comes to sanctions.

"There is already in the sanctions package something about diamonds, and Belgium has never been against any sanctions that have been proposed by the EU Commission. We have no taboo," Wilmes said.

China's ambiguity on Ukraine remains

EU leaders failed to secure a pledge of non-interference in the Ukraine war from China, following a virtual summit of the two powers on Friday.

The West fears a potential intervention from Beijing in favour of Moscow would mark a turning point in the war's evolution and offer the Kremlin a much-needed boost to re-energise its stalled military campaign.

China has played a deliberately ambiguous role in the invasion from the very beginning, expressing support for Ukraine's independence while condemning Western sanctions against Russia.

"We made it very clear that China should, if not support, at least not interfere with our sanctions," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting.

"No European citizen would understand any support to Russia’s ability to wage war. Moreover, it would lead to a major reputational damage for China here in Europe."

She also emphasised China's status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and its responsibility to uphold international law and protect Ukraine's sovereignty.