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Russian President Vladimir Putin Alamy Stock Photo
Vladimir Putin

Hungary offers to host peace talks between Russia and Ukraine

The Russian president released another extraordinary video statement today.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Feb 2022

HUNGARY HAS SAID it offered to host talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators on the second day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbour.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that he had spoken by telephone to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and to Andriy Yermak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Budapest, the Hungarian capital, “can serve as a secure location for both the Russian and Ukrainian negotiating delegations,” Szijjarto said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.

“Neither rejected (the proposal), both were grateful, and are considering it,” he said.

“I sincerely hope that within hours or days there will be an agreement about the start of talks,” he added.

Hungary, a member of the European Union and of NATO, has cultivated a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin under its nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Earlier on Friday, the Kremlin said Putin was ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks with Ukraine.

Lavrov said Moscow was ready to talk but only if Ukraine’s armed forces “lay down their arms”, adding that “nobody intends to occupy Ukraine”.

But the United States swiftly dismissed the offer.

“Now we see Moscow suggesting diplomacy take place at the barrel of a gun. This is not real diplomacy,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Orban on Thursday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier, the Kremlin said the prospects for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine look uncertain due to apparent differences over a venue.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin has agreed to send a delegation for talks with Ukrainian officials in Minsk, Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs a pro-Russian government.

That agreement came in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s offer earlier in the day to discuss non-aligned status for Ukraine.

Peskov told reporters that after the parties discussed Minsk as a possible venue, Ukrainian officials said they were unwilling to travel to the Belarusian capital and would prefer to meet in Nato member Poland. They then halted further communication, Peskov said.

Russia has also been suspended from the Council of Europe today.

The human rights body said on Friday that it is suspending all representatives of Russia from participation in the pan-European rights body over Moscow’s attack against Ukraine.

Permanent representatives of its 47 member states “agreed to suspend the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe,” invoking Article 8 of its statute, a statement said.

The decision takes effect immediately and affects the rights of representation of Russia in the Committee of Ministers and in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

However the decision does not affect the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is part of the Council of Europe.

The Russian judge remains a member of the court and applications introduced against Russia will continue to be examined and decided by the court, it said.

“Suspension is not a final measure but a temporary one, leaving channels of communication open,” the Council of Europe emphasised in the statement.

Article 8 of the Council of Europe’s statute allows the suspension of a member’s representation rights and — in a later step — even exclusion from the body.

Russia, a Council of Europe member since 1996, has already in the past been the target of such sanctions — after its annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

Then, the Russian delegation in the PACE was deprived of voting rights.

Russia responded by boycotting the sessions of the assembly and suspending the payment of contribution to the council’s budget.

The dispute was resolved and Russia’s rights restored in 2019 in a deal championed by French President Emmanuel Macron — then seeking to rekindle relations with Russia — but which infuriated Kyiv.

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric described the attack  on Ukraine as a “flagrant violation” of the statute of the Council of Europe and the ECHR which the body oversees.

“This is a dark hour for Europe and everything it stands for,” she said.

Earlier, Putin called on the Ukrainian army to overthrow the country’s leadership whom he described as “terrorists” and “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”.

In another extraordinary video statement, Putin called on Ukraine’s armed forces to prevent the “gang of Nazis who have captured Kyiv” from using civilians as “human shields”. 

He urged the Ukrainian army to “take power in your own hands.”

“It seems like it will be easier for us to agree with you than this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” Putin said, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.

Russia has repeatedly referred to Ukraine’s leadership as Nazis and Putin has justified the invasion by saying he had to “de-Nazify” the country.

President Zelensky pushed back at the unfounded accusations yesterday.

Addressing the Russian public directly, Zelensky said: “The Ukraine on your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries — and the main difference between them is: Ours is real.

You are told we are Nazis. But could a people who lost more than eight million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?

“How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine,” he added.

Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov earlier said the Kremlin has said that Putin is ready to send a high-level delegation to Minsk for talks.

Assaults by the Russian military across Ukraine have continued today, with Russian forces reaching the outskirts of the capital Kyiv on the second day of the invasion.

The Russian military says that it has captured a strategic airport outside the Ukrainian capital, claiming that Kyiv has now been cut off from the west.

The Gostomel (Hostomel) Airport was the site of intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops.

There have been reports of fighting on the outskirts of Kyiv today, with small arms fire and some explosions in the Obolonsky district in the north of the city.

Zelensky has said that more than 130 Ukrainian civilians and military personnel died during the first day of fighting.

Zelensky called for Europeans who have combat experience to help fight for Ukraine as Russian forces threaten Kyiv.

“If you have combat experience in Europe and do not want to look at the indecision of politicians, you can come to our country and join us in defending Europe, where it is very necessary now,” Zelensky said in a video statement.

Zelensky also called for more financial and more military aid from governments in Europe, saying that Europeans should “demand from your governments that Ukraine receive more financial, more military aid.”

While the EU, US and UK have introduced sanctions on Russia, they have stopped short of cutting Russia off from the SWIFT international banking system.

He demanded that Europe go further on their sanctions against Russia as soon as possible.

“Europe has enough strength to stop this aggression,” Zelensky said.

“Cancellation of visas for Russians? Disconnect from SWIFT? Complete isolation of Russia? Recall of ambassadors? Oil embargo? Closing the sky? Today, all this must be on the table,” he said.

Following the Russian capture of Chernobyl yesterday, there has been a rise in the levels of gamma radiation being detected beside the decommissioned nuclear plant.

Earlier today, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for negotiations to take place between Russia and Ukraine following a call with Putin.

In a readout of the call on Chinese-state broadcaster CCTV, Xi said that the situation in Ukraine had “undergone rapid changes” and that China “supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation”.

However, the readout did not describe the conflict as an “invasion” nor did it condemn the actions of Russia.

Xi said on the call with Putin it was important to “abandon the Cold War mentality, attach importance to and respect the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations”.

Putin told Jinping on the call that both NATO and the US had ignored Russia’s safety concerns and outlined why the invasion was launched.

He also said that Russia was ready to hold “high-level talks” with Ukraine.

There has not yet been a Russian readout of the call released by the Kremlin.

Additional reporting by AFP, Press Association, Céimin Burke and Eoghan Dalton

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