Macron fears worst to come in Ukraine as Zelenskyy demands Putin talks

Russian president vows no let-up in his invasion of Ukraine as Kyiv appeals for western military aid

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Thursday for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Moscow captured its first major urban centre since its attack began a week ago.

Mr Zelenskyy said it was sensible to have negotiations, saying: “Any words are more important than shots.”

He suggested the two countries could find a way out of the war.

“There are things in which some compromises must be found so that people do not die, but there are things in which there are no compromises,” he said.

He called on the West to increase military aid to Ukraine, saying Russia would advance on the rest of Europe otherwise.

“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes,” Mr Zelensky said at a press conference. “If we are no more than, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next,” he said.

Mr Putin vowed the invasion of Ukraine would continue, even as the warring sides met for ceasefire talks at an undisclosed location on the Belarus-Poland border.

In televised comments, he said that Russia's military operations in Ukraine were going according to plan and praised its soldiers as heroes.

He made a series of allegations against Ukrainian forces for which he did not provide evidence, including that they were holding foreign citizens hostage and using human shields

Earlier, he spoke by telephone to French President Emmanuel Macron, telling him Russia would achieve its goals, including the demilitarisation and neutrality of Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

Mr Macron believes “the worst is to come” in Ukraine after a 90-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, who appears intent on seizing “the whole” of the country, an aide to the French leader said.

“There was nothing in what President Putin told us that should reassure us. He showed great determination to continue the operation.

“He will, in his own words, carry out his operation to 'denazify' Ukraine to the end.”

“You can understand the extent to which these words are shocking and unacceptable and the president told him that it was lies,” the aide said.

In a second round of talks, Ukraine and Russia agreed to create humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.

"The second round of talks is over. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have the results it needs yet. There are decisions only on the organisation of humanitarian corridors," Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

The talks between the Russian and Ukrainian officials took place on the Poland-Belarus border.

Russian negotiators confirmed that both sides had agreed to creating a way out for civilians.

"The main question that we decided on today was the issue of saving people, civilians, who are in the zone of military clashes," Russia's main negotiator and former culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said.

"Russia calls on civilians who find themselves in this situation, if military actions continue, to use these humanitarian corridors," he said.

Another Russian negotiator, nationalist lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, said the agreements will be "implemented in the near future."

The Russian military said on Thursday it had taken control of Kherson, the strategically important southern Dnipro River port, which its tanks entered on Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials confirmed that Russian forces had taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port that is home to 280,000 people.

Moscow’s advance on Ukraine’s capital has apparently stalled over the past few days, with a huge armoured column north of Kyiv at a standstill, but the military has made significant gains in the south as part of an effort to sever the country’s connection to the Black and Azov Seas.

Ukrainian media reports said Russian troops had entered the southern city of Enerhodar, a major energy hub on the Dnieper River that accounts for about a quarter of the country’s power generation. It is the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the biggest in Europe.

Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, plunging it into darkness. Electricity and phone service were largely down, and homes and shops faced food and water shortages.

The UN said more than one million refugees had fled Ukraine in the past seven days, one of the fastest exoduses in memory.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already begun investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said he would start collecting evidence as part of a formal investigation.

Mr Khan said his office would be examining possible crimes against humanity and genocide — offences under the court's jurisdiction — by all parties in the conflict.

Russian FM: 'those who plan to start a full-scale war against us should think'

Russian FM: 'those who plan to start a full-scale war against us should think'

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov turned the focus on western politicians, accusing them of fixating on nuclear war.

“It's clear that World War Three can only be a nuclear war,” Mr Lavrov said in an interview with Russian and foreign media. Mr Putin placed his strategic nuclear forces on high alert earlier this week.

“I would like to point out that it's in the heads of western politicians that the idea of a nuclear war is spinning constantly, and not in the heads of Russians,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief said a rising nuclear threat put all humanity at risk.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet said that Russia's full-scale invasion “is generating massive impact on the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine".

Russia's attack is not only putting people in Ukraine at risk, Ms Bachelet said, but also “opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history".

“Elevated threat levels for nuclear weapons underline the gravity of the risks to all of humanity,” she said.

The UN nuclear watchdog urged Russia to “cease all actions” at Ukraine's nuclear facilities, including the site of the Chernobyl disaster.

Russian oil company Lukoil has called for an immediate halt to fighting in Ukraine, one of the first major domestic firms to speak out against Moscow's invasion of its pro-western neighbour.

The company said in a statement its board backs “the immediate cessation of the armed conflict and fully supports its resolution through the negotiation process and through diplomatic means".

France said on Thursday it had seized a superyacht owned by Russia's oil chief Igor Sechin, following through on threats to hit sanctioned oligarchs close to Mr Putin.

The vessel, Amore Vero, was seized at a shipyard at La Ciotat on the French Riviera.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that legal threats would not prevent it from sanctioning Russian oligarchs and that London had a further list of businessmen who could be designated.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 6:40 PM