Published: 10:33, March 1, 2022 | Updated: 11:35, March 1, 2022
Ukraine officially appeals for EU membership
By Xinhua

This handout picture released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on Feb 28, 2022 shows Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (center), Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal (right) and Ukraine's Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk attend a signing of the application for membership in the European Union. (UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP)

KIEV/MOSCOW/PARIS/WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/OTTAWA/GENEVA/BUDAPEST – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday signed an official appeal for the European Union (EU) asking for an accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure, the presidential spokesman said. 

The move came as Russia and Ukraine concluded their first round of negotiations in Belarus with no clear breakthrough. The talks are certainly a positive signal, observed analysts, but the negotiation process would be rather complicated. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate end to the military operations in Ukraine. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin meanwhile said all Moscow's security concerns must be taken into account for settlement of the Ukraine issue. 

In a statement on Facebook, Ukraine’s presidential spokesman Sergii Nykyforov said that the document is historical for Ukraine. 

Earlier in the day, Zelensky urged the EU to grant Ukraine membership due to Russia's assault against Ukraine. 

READ MORE: Russia says nuclear triad put on high alert

The Ukrainian parliament approved in the first reading a bill on including Ukraine's goal to join NATO and the EU in the constitution in 2019. 

In 2014, when pro-West authorities came into power in Ukraine, Kiev abandoned its multilateral policy and set a course toward European integration. Furthermore, the parliament revoked Ukraine's non-aligned status, paving the way for its membership in military blocs. 

Since then, Ukraine has strengthened cooperation with the EU and increased interactions with NATO, but neither organization has promised Kiev immediate membership prospects. 

No breakthrough 

The long-awaited negotiations between delegations from Russia and Ukraine was held in the Gomel region in Belarus and lasted for five hours. 

Headed by presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky, Moscow's delegation was formed by representatives from the defense and foreign ministries, among others. Ukrainian Defense Minister Olexiy Reznikov and the deputy head of the ministry of foreign affairs were among the participants from the Ukrainian side. 

Before the negotiations, representatives from the Russian side said a key aim would be to achieve peace. 

Members of delegations from Ukraine and Russia, including Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky (second left), Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak (second right), Volodymyr Zelensky's "Servant of the People" lawmaker Davyd Arakhamia (third right), hold talks in Belarus' Gomel region on Feb 28, 2022. (SERGEI KHOLODILIN / BELTA / AFP)

After the consultations, Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, said the next round of peace talks would take place on the Belarusian-Polish border in the coming days. 

Medinsky also said that each one of the delegations would now head back to their capitals to further discuss all negotiation positions to prepare for the next round of negotiations. "We have found some issues on which we can predict there would be common positions," the official said, adding that all negotiation positions were discussed in detail during the talks.

‘Fighting must stop’ 

Calling for a stop to fighting in Ukraine, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly on Ukraine on Monday, “It is raging across the country, from air, land and sea. It must stop now.”  

Yesterday, Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert. This is a chilling development. The mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, UN 

"Enough is enough. Soldiers need to move back to their barracks. Leaders need to move to peace. Civilians must be protected. International humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders, must be respected." 

“We are facing a tragedy for Ukraine, but also a major regional crisis with potentially disastrous implications for us all," he warned. "Yesterday, Russian nuclear forces were put on high alert. This is a chilling development. The mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable. Nothing can justify the use of nuclear weapons." 

The only true solution is peace, said Guterres. "The guns are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open. It is never too late to engage in good-faith negotiations and to address all issues peacefully." 

NATO allies boost Ukraine support 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have boosted support to Ukraine with military equipment, financial assistance and humanitarian aid, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday via Twitter. “NATO Allies are stepping up support with air-defense missiles, anti-tank weapons, as well as humanitarian and financial aid," Stoltenberg tweeted. 

NATO said in a press release on Sunday that Ukraine has received "critical weapons," including Javelin missiles and anti-aircraft missiles." Millions of euros" worth of financial assistance and humanitarian aid have also been sent to the Ukrainian forces, NATO added. 

Putin highlights security concerns 

All Moscow's security concerns must be taken into account for settlement in Ukraine, President Putin said Monday during a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. 

He reiterated that a settlement would only be possible if Russia's security concerns were taken into account, including "Russia's sovereignty over Crimea," as well as the country's commitment to solving the tasks of Ukraine's demilitarization and denazification, and the issue of Ukraine's neutral status, the Kremlin said in a statement. 

ALSO READ: Kyiv plunges into chaos as Putin aims to demilitarize Ukraine

Putin said Russia is open to negotiations with Ukraine and expressed hope they would lead to the desired result. 

Russia's armed forces are not striking civilian objects, and do not pose a threat to civilians, he said. “Ukrainian nationalists, who have been using their civilian population 'as a human shield,' are a threat.” 

People wait to board an evacuation train at Kyiv central train station on Feb 28, 2022. The Russian army said Monday that Ukrainian civilians could "freely" leave the Ukrainian capital as its invasion entered a fifth day. (DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP)

According to the Elysee, Macron asked Russia to respect international law and protect the civil population. "The French President reaffirmed the necessity to implement an immediate ceasefire," the Elysee said. 

Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, regretted a US decision to expel 12 staff members of the Russian UN mission. 

"I would like to inform you about yet another hostile step taken by the host country – a step against the Russian mission. Just now, literally, an hour ago, we were informed that from the Russian mission, 12 of its staff are being expelled," said Nebenzia at the beginning of a Security Council meeting that he was chairing. 

The decision is "yet another gross violation" of the UN Headquarters agreement signed by the United States as the host country, and of the Vienna Conventions, said Nebenzia. 

READ MORE: Tens of thousands seek refuge

US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Richard Mills, said the 12 staff members of the Russian mission were ordered to leave because they engaged in "activities that were not in accordance with their responsibilities and obligations as diplomats." 

UN to scale up humanitarian operations in Ukraine 

The UN and partners are preparing to scale up humanitarian operations in Ukraine once the security situation permits, a UN spokesman said on Monday. 

Local civil society organizations and volunteers are on the front lines providing support to everyone in need, including internally displaced people, those impacted by the violence and the people trying to cross borders, said Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesman for the UN chief. 

The spokesman said the UN Refugee Agency reported that more than half a million people have already crossed international borders, primarily toward Poland. At least 160,000 were internally displaced. 

US sanctions Russian central bank, financial tools 

The US Department of the Treasury on Monday announced a fresh round of sanctions targeting Russia's central bank, the country's financial tools as well as a relevant individual, in response to Moscow's ongoing military operations in Ukraine. 

The Treasury Department said in a statement that the US government has banned transactions by US persons with the Russian central bank, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation and the Russian Ministry of Finance. 

“This action effectively immobilizes any assets of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation held in the United States or by US persons, wherever located," read the statement, according to which certain energy-related transactions will be exempted from the just-announced sanctions. Those business dealings are still being allowed via a forthcoming general license. 

Treasury also sanctioned the Russian Direct Investment Fund – a key Russian sovereign wealth fund – its management company, and one of the managing company's subsidiaries. Also on the sanction list is the managing company's chief executive officer, Kirill Dmitriev, who the department said is a "known ally" of President Vladimir Putin of Russia. 

Elvira Nabiullina, the Russian central bank chief, said Monday that Russia has developed its own financial messaging system, known as SPFS, to replace SWIFT, so that the Russian financial infrastructure will run smoothly in the current environment, according to reports by Russia's TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies.

US citizens told to leave Russia 

The US Department of State on Monday advised US citizens currently in Russia to consider departing the country "immediately," citing Moscow's ongoing military actions in Ukraine and what the department expected to be potential "harassment" toward Americans by "Russian government security officials." 

In an updated travel advisory, the State Department said the US government's ability to assist Russia-based US nationals is "limited" now, so Americans should consider leaving the country "via commercial options still available." 

As such and given "the ongoing armed conflict," the State Department in its advisory advised US citizens against traveling by land from Russia to Ukraine, and urged those near the Russia-Ukraine border and those who plan to travel there "to be aware that the situation along the border is dangerous and unpredictable." 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Feb 28, 2022. He said Canada will send anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to support Ukraine. (SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Canada to send Ukraine anti-tank weapons 

Canada will send anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition to support Ukraine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday. 

"Yesterday, we announced that we would be sending new shipments of military supplies, including body armor, helmets, gas masks, and night-vision goggles," Trudeau told a press conference. "Today, we are announcing that we will be supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons systems and upgraded ammunition." 

The Canadian government plans to prohibit all imports of Russian crude oil, Trudeau added. 

Switzerland to follow EU sanctions packages 

The Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland's top administrative body, on Monday decided to adopt the packages of sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) against Russia, including freezing the assets of a number of Russian individuals and companies. 

The council said the financial sanctions against President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are also to be implemented with immediate effect. 

The council has also decided to impose entry bans against a number of individuals "who have a connection to Switzerland and are close to the Russian president." 

In line with airspace closures in other European countries, Swiss airspace will be closed to all flights from Russia and to all movements of aircraft with Russian markings from 3 pm on Monday with the exception of flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes.