Ukraine, Russia talk as sanctions rain down on Moscow
Ukraine and Russia held a meeting on Monday which could help to stop the war.
The meeting came as Russian shelling killed 11 people in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv after days of fighting that have seen the biggest cities, including Kyiv, stay out of Russian hands.
The war has already forced more than 500,000 people into neighbouring countries, the UN said Monday, as fears mount of a protracted conflict in eastern Europe.
Negotiators from Moscow and Kyiv held talks on the border between Belarus and Ukraine on day five of Moscow’s invasion, but Ukrainian demands for a ceasefire “and the withdrawal of troops” were almost certain to be rejected.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had sought to play down expectations beforehand, saying: “I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try.”
Sanctions imposed by the West over the weekend had an immediate impact on Moscow financial markets on Monday, with the Russian ruble falling to a record low and the central bank more than doubling the key interest rate to 20 percent.
The United States also announced Monday that it had banned all US transactions with Russia’s central bank and would freeze its foreign reserves, while traditionally neutral Switzerland also said it would adopt the same measures as the EU.
The sanctions are intended to change the calculus of Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin, but on the ground the roughly 100,000 Russian troops thought to be inside Ukraine pressed ahead with their invasion from the north, east and south on Monday.
“The Western sanctions on Russia are hard, but our country has the necessary potential to compensate the damage,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
Putin on Sunday put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert in response to what he called “unfriendly” steps by the West, whose unity and speed in isolating the Russian economy has surprised observers.
There were more signs of rare dissent among the usually ultra-loyal oligarchs who surround the Russian leader — in addition to anti-war demonstrations in Russia that saw an estimated 2,100 people arrested on Sunday.
“It is necessary to change the economic policy, it is necessary to end all this state capitalism,” tycoon Oleg Deripaska wrote on Telegram while criticising “fantasists” in charge.