Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during their meeting in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022. (VLADIMIR ASTAPKOVICH, SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
MOSCOW / WASHINGTON / BERLIN - Russian President Vladimir Putin met with visiting United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Kremlin on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
Putin told Guterres that the Ukrainian issue arose after the 2014 "unconstitutional coup" in Kiev and people in Donbass remained under blockade and military pressure even after the Minsk agreements on a peaceful settlement were reached.
Guterres proposed creating a contact group where the UN, Russia and Ukraine can discuss the situation together so that the humanitarian corridors are truly effective
According to Putin, the Donbass "republics" have the right to declare their sovereignty and Russia has the right to recognize their independence and provide them with military assistance in full accordance with the UN Charter.
"Despite the ongoing military operation, we still hope that we will be able to reach agreements on the diplomatic track. We are negotiating and we do not refuse them," he said.
Guterres proposed creating a contact group where the UN, Russia and Ukraine can discuss the situation together so that the humanitarian corridors are truly effective.
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He said that to resolve the situation in Ukraine's Mariupol, the UN is ready to fully mobilize its logistical capabilities and human resources, working together with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.
Guterres also said that the UN is ready in two or three days, together with the ICRC, to assess the situation at the Azovstal plant in order to evacuate civilians from there.
In response, Putin denied reports that Russian humanitarian corridors are not working and stressed that 130,000 to 140,000 people have left Mariupol with the assistance of Russia and they are free to go anywhere.
Tetiana Komissarova (left) boards an evacuation train to Lviv with her children Ivan and Ioulia the day after arriving with a humanitarian convoy from Mariupol, at a railway station in the southern city of Zaporijjia on April 22, 2022. (ED JONES / AFP)
Putin also offered an opportunity to UN and ICRC representatives to have a look at how Russia treats Ukrainian war prisoners.
Before his trip to Moscow, Guterres met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday in the capital Ankara. The UN chief will travel to Ukraine following talks with Putin.
Also on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Guterres agreed on the need to continue the negotiation process and seek a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis.
"We stand in favor of a negotiated solution," Lavrov said during a joint press conference with Guterres after their talks in Moscow, noting that Russia agreed to begin negotiations in early March immediately after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had proposed.
Lavrov expressed "disappointment" with the Ukrainian side's attitude towards the peace talks, saying that "apparently, they are not particularly interested in these negotiations."
He urged Kiev to quickly respond to Russia's proposals, and warned that the negotiations will yield no results if the West continues to provide weapons to Ukraine.
"I came to Moscow as a messenger of peace. My objective and my agenda are strictly linked to saving lives and reducing suffering," Guterres said, calling his discussions with Lavrov "very frank."
"It is my deep conviction that the sooner we end this war the better for the people of Ukraine, for the people of Russia, and for those far beyond," he added.
Meanwhile, the US Department of State said in a statement Tuesday that it has determined an "emergency" exists in Ukraine that becomes a "national security" concern of the United States, therefore the department bypassed Congress to approve the sale of ammunition to Kiev.
The decision to sell the approximately $165 million worth of "non-standard" Soviet-era ammunition was made after Secretary of State Antony Blinken "has determined and provided detailed justification that an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale to Ukraine" of ammunition including grenade launchers, mortars and D-20 cannons, it said.
The sale, according to the statement, is "in the national security interests of the United States, thereby waiving the Congressional review requirements" under federal law.
"The proposed sale will improve Ukraine's capability to meet current and future threats by maintaining the operational readiness of its forces," the statement reads. "Ukraine already has these items, or variants thereof, in its inventory and will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces."
The announcement came just after Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kiev and held talks with Zelensky, whom Blinken notified of the arms sale.
Germany will also supply Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine and provide training for the country's soldiers, Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday.
"If Ukraine urgently needs such air defense systems, then we are ready to support them," Lambrecht said at an international consultation meeting in the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Rhineland-Palatinate.
Representatives of around 40 countries, including Austin, met in Ramstein for discussion over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Addressing criticism that Germany would not provide enough weapons to Ukraine, Lambrecht said that the country had reached its limits. "For decades, Bundeswehr spending was cut." Now, Germany has changed its position on weapon deliveries to conflict areas.
Earlier this year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a special defense fund of 100 billion euros ($106 billion) and an increase in annual defense budgets to more than 2 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
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