Ukraine’s president said the war can only be resolved through diplomacy, despite the current suspension of negotiations.
“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly take place,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with a Ukrainian TV channel.
“In what format I don’t know – with intermediaries, without them, in a larger group, at the presidential level. But the war will be bloody, there will be fights and will definitely end only with diplomacy.
He added: “There are things that can only be achieved at the negotiating table. We want it all back [to as it was before] but Russia does not want that,” he said.
The latest talks between the two sides took place on April 22, according to Russian news agencies.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukraine of not wanting to continue talks to end the fighting.
During the interview, Zelenskiy spoke about a document on security guarantees for his country. Although a bilateral discussion is taking place with Russia at the same time, the document would be signed by “friends and partners of Ukraine, without Moscow”, he added.
However, Zelenskiy warned that the prerequisite for resuming negotiations with Moscow was that Russia does not kill Ukrainian troops defending the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
“The most important thing for me is to save as many people and soldiers as possible,” he said.
On Friday, Russia claimed to have taken full control of the beleaguered city of Mariupol – in what has been described as Moscow’s biggest prize since it invaded Ukraine in February – after the surrender of the last group of Ukrainian soldiers locked up in the Azovstal steelworks. The move marked the end of the three-month siege of the defenders’ last stronghold in the city.
“The underground structures in Azovstal where the militants were hiding are now under the full control of the Russian Armed Forces,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered.
Hours before the Russian announcement, Zelenskiy said the defenders had been told by the Ukrainian military that they could get out and save their lives and would likely all leave in the next few days.
In a live video posted on Telegram, Denys Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov regiment that led the defense of the plant, said only the dead remained.
“The higher military command gave the order to save the lives of the soldiers of our garrison and to stop defending the city,” he said. “I now hope that soon the families and all of Ukraine will be able to bury their fighters with honors.”
Ukraine hopes to exchange the surrendered Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities are threatening to bring some of them to justice.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Gazprom halted gas exports to neighboring Finland on Saturday, Finland’s gas system operator said, after Helsinki angered Moscow by seeking NATO membership.
Finland, along with neighboring Sweden, broke their historic military non-alignment this week and asked to join NATO, after public and political support for the alliance skyrocketed following the invasion of NATO. Ukraine by Russia.
Moscow warned Finland that any application for NATO membership would be “a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences”.
Most of the gas used in Finland comes from Russia, but the fuel represents only about 5% of its annual energy consumption.
On the ground in Ukraine, heavy fighting continued in the eastern region of Donbass, where, according to Zelenskiy, Russian troops “completely ruined the towns of Rubizhne, Volnovakha, just as they did Mariupol”, adding that the Russians “were trying to do the same with Severodonetsk and many other cities”.
And while the US Congress this week approved a $40bn (£32bn) aid package, including funds to upgrade Ukraine’s armored vehicle fleet and air defense system, Moscow claimed on Saturday that it had destroyed a large shipment of US and European weapons, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles which reportedly hit the Malin railway station, northwest of kyiv, in the region of Zhytomyr.
There has been no Ukrainian or independent confirmation of the strike’s success.