Russia has violated its pledge to scale back military operations on the outskirts of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, as little progress was reported in the latest round of peace talks between the two countries.
Amid reports of Moscow’s violation, Russia said Wednesday there was no sign of a breakthrough in peace talks with Ukraine.
The apparent impasse comes as U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“The leaders discussed how the United States is working around the clock to fulfill the main security assistance requests by Ukraine, the critical effects those weapons have had on the conflict, and continued efforts by the United States with allies and partners to identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” the White House said in a statement.
“President Biden informed President Zelenskyy that the United States intends to provide the Ukrainian government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid,” the White House added, noting the Ukrainian leader updated Biden on the status of negotiations.
The call and the impasse in peace talks come as newly declassified intelligence suggests Russia’s more than monthlong invasion of Ukraine is causing rifts between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his senior military advisers.
“There is now persistent tension between Putin and the MOD [Ministry of Defense],” a U.S. official confirmed to VOA on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the information.
“His senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” the official said, noting the intelligence indicates Putin’s aides have misinformed him on the progress of Russian troops as well as the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy.
“Putin didn’t even know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information,” the official said.
British military intelligence Wednesday provided further indications of Russia’s military struggles.
“Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganize and resupply,” British Defense Attaché, Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath said, warning Moscow’s forces would try to compensate with more artillery and missile strikes.
“Russia’s stated focus on an offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance,” Smeath added.
Other military officials also warned there is a chance Russia could try to expand the war beyond Ukraine.
“There’s always a risk,” General Tod Wolters, the Supreme Allied Commander and commander of U.S. European Command, told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday.
“They obviously are capable of utilizing all domains,” Wolters said. “I am most concerned about [NATO’s] eastern periphery as it connects to Russia.”
Russia appeared to signal Wednesday that it is welcoming talks aimed at ending the 36-day-old war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a press briefing Wednesday that Moscow welcomed the fact that Kyiv presented a written statement of demands at the start of negotiations in Istanbul, Turkey.
But Peskov also said Russia has not seen anything promising that would lead to a final agreement.
An aide to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said the two sides discussed the terms of a possible cease-fire, along with international security guarantees for Ukraine during Tuesday’s session.
Ukrainian negotiators also proposed that Kyiv would adopt a neutral status and commit to not joining NATO or other military alliances in exchange for security guarantees from Western countries.
Continued Russian attacks
Meanwhile, local officials in Ukraine say Russian forces have continued artillery attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv, despite a vow to reduce operations in those locations as a sign of goodwill.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN, Chernihiv Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko, said Russia’s attacks had escalated over the past 24 hours.
“This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies,” Atroshenko said. “They actually have increased the intensity of strikes,” with “a colossal mortar attack in the center of Chernihiv” that wounded 25 civilians.
Russia did not immediately comment on the reports and claims that it has violated its commitment to reduce operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.
Russian forces also damaged a Red Cross warehouse in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian government and the International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday. The aid group said it did not immediately know the extent of the damage or if there were any casualties. Mariupol is a strategic city where officials have warned of a humanitarian disaster.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk earlier Wednesday announced the two sides had agreed to open three evacuation corridors. Vereshchuk said one corridor would be used for the evacuation of Mariupol and delivery of humanitarian aid to Berdyansk, about 85 kilometers southwest of Mariupol.
Another corridor would allow humanitarian aid deliveries to the city of Melitopol, as well as evacuations from the city, while a third would open for people traveling from Enerhodar to Zaporizhzhia, both in southern Ukraine.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Wednesday the number of Ukrainians who have fled to escape what he called a “senseless war” has now exceeded 4 million people.
The U.N. says more than half of those who have left Ukraine since the start of the February 24 invasion have headed west into Poland.
The U.S. State Department issued a new advisory Tuesday urging U.S. citizens either traveling to or residing in Russia to leave the country immediately.
The State Department designated Russia a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” nation on its travel advisory list shortly after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer and White House Correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report.