Russian President Vladimir Putin with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (File image courtesy: Kremlin.ru)
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Kyiv should take "political responsibility" for the Ukrainian servicemen and "militants of the nationalist battalions" blocked on the territory of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, the strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine.
Discussing the situation in detail, and especially in and around the key port on the Sea of Azov, Putin told Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone conversation today that Mariupol has been liberated and there were no military operations there.
"As for the Ukrainian servicemen and militants of the nationalist battalions blocked on the territory of the Azovstal plant, the Kyiv authorities should take political responsibility and, guided by humane considerations, order them to lay down their arms. Prisoners of war are guaranteed life, medical care and treatment in accordance with international legal standards," said the Kremlin.
Quoting Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk People's Republic, Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported on Tuesday that the "militants" blocked at Azovstal are asking to be released with weapons to Turkey.
"They go out to our military, to the Russian military, they try to bargain on how it is better for them to surrender. They demand or ask, I don’t know what word to choose… They don't trust Kyiv, that is, in their last requests, evacuation is not to Kyiv or not to the side controlled by Ukraine, but they want to go to Turkey, where they are ready to disarm. Of course, they are suggesting nonsense," said Pushilin.
Ankara, which had also been worried about the Turkish ships in the region, was assured by Moscow that a safe exit for them from the ports on the Black Sea along the maritime humanitarian corridor has been organised by the Russian Defence Ministry.
The Russian President's comments on Ukraine came just before he was due to meet the visiting UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Moscow.
The UN chief, who is scheduled to visit Kyiv, had also met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier in the day to "create the conditions for a ceasefire as soon as possible".
With the hostilities intensifying, the UN has called for an immediate pause to fighting in Mariupol to allow trapped civilians to leave the city safely.
Guterres proposed the establishment of a Humanitarian Contact Group, bringing together Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations, to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective.
"Thousands of civilians are in dire need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, and many, of evacuation. The United Nations is ready to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives in Mariupol," he said in Moscow.
Lavrov, meanwhile, told Guterres that the "principle of multilateralism" has been violated by the West which has set a course to create and perpetuate a unipolar world.
"We promptly responded to your initiative to hold another contact in Moscow on a number of important issues, including the situation around Ukraine, which catalyzes the numerous problems that have accumulated over the past decades in the Euro-Atlantic area," he said.
He also labeled Kyiv's proposal to hold peace talks in Azovstal as a "theatrical gesture".
"A theatrical gesture. Ukrainians love to stage everything. Apparently, they wanted to stage another heartbreaking scene," the Russian Foreign Minister said after meeting Guterres
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