Russia blames war on NATO as it pounds Ukraine, demands territory for talks | Russia-Ukraine war News

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pressed on with his shuttle diplomacy to achieve a ceasefire in Ukraine, visiting Beijing on Monday after passing through Kyiv and Moscow.

Ukrainian allies NATO and the European Union disavowed the mission, saying Orban was not undertaking an initiative on their behalf. Russia, after initially dismissing Orban’s effort, said it could prove “very valuable”.

“He has shown his political will for dialogue. We take it very, very positively. We believe it can be very useful,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

That marked a change from his initial assessment.

Orban visited Kyiv on July 2, immediately after Hungary assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union, and Moscow three days later.

Peskov said at the time, “we don’t expect anything” from Orban’s visit to Kyiv, adding that Orban would be obliged to serve “Brussels’s interests rather than Hungary’s national interests”.

The populist Orban, often at odds with the EU, has been calling for a ceasefire as a first step towards negotiating a peace. Both Moscow and Kyiv have rejected it, saying it would give the other side an opportunity to regroup militarily.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed harsh conditions on any acceptance of a ceasefire.

“We need to ensure that the opposite party agrees to take demilitarisation steps that are irreversible and acceptable to the Russian Federation,” Russian state news agency Tass quoted him as saying in Astana, Kazakhstan, where a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was being held. “A ceasefire without reaching this agreement is impossible.”

Putin spelled out his terms in a speech at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 14.

“Ukrainian troops should be completely withdrawn from the Donetsk, Lugansk people’s republics, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions,” he said, referring to two republics proclaimed by Russian-backed separatists that are not internationally recognised and one of which is a region known in Ukraine as Luhansk.

Putin also specified that Ukraine should cede the entirety of these regions, which Russian troops only partially occupy.

“As soon as Kyiv declares that they are ready for such a decision and begin a real withdrawal of troops from these regions as well as officially notify of the rejection of plans to join NATO, from our side immediately, literally at the same moment, the order will be followed by a ceasefire and start of negotiations,” the president said.

Putin added that Russia had been prepared at one point to discuss Ukrainian sovereignty over Zaporizhia and Kherson in exchange for Russian access through them to Crimea but that offer was off the table after Russia formally annexed the four regions in September 2022.

The day after his Astana speech, Putin met with Orban in Moscow to discuss the Hungarian premier’s ceasefire proposal, only to repeat the June 14 conditions.

Not to be deterred, Orban wrote a letter to EU leaders on Tuesday, urging them to back his call for a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“There is a good chance now,” the German news agency dpa quoted Orban as saying in the letter.

Continuing his mission in Beijing on Monday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping appeared to back Orban’s call.

“It is in the interests of all parties to end hostilities and find a political solution as soon as possible,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying.

“We highly appreciate your peace initiative,” Orban responded, referring to a Chinese peace proposal made a year into the war. Among other things, China proposed a ceasefire and an end to sanctions.

Russia strikes Kyiv

As Xi and Orban spoke, Putin’s forces unleashed waves of deadly missiles across Ukraine, killing at least 36 people.

Two of those fatalities occurred when two missiles struck the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv, destroying its toxicology ward.

The two waves contained at least 44 missiles, Ukraine’s air force said, of which it shot down 32.

Amid a global outcry over the attack, Russia tried to deflect blame, saying a NASAMS air defence missile struck the hospital.

Al Jazeera’s verification unit, Sanad, said: “Our verification of the circulating videos showing the moment a missile struck the Ukrainian children’s hospital reveals that the missile is identical to the Russian KH-101 missile.”

The UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine said on Tuesday that Russia was most likely to blame.

Rescue workers carry the body of a person found under the debris of an apartment building that was hit by a Russian missile in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 9, 2024 [Handout: State Emergency Service of Ukraine via Reuters]

“Analysis of the video footage and an assessment made at the incident site indicates a high likelihood that the children’s hospital suffered a direct hit rather than receiving damage due to an intercepted weapon system,” said Danielle Bell, head of the mission.

Putin also used a visit to Moscow by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and Tuesday to pose as peacemaker in the war it started.

Modi gave Putin a rare moment of acceptance on the world stage, calling the India-Russia relationship “a partnership between people” and hugging the isolated Russian leader for the cameras.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said they considered the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation “one of the highest priority platforms for both Moscow and New Delhi”.

In his June 14 speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Putin referred to the BRICS group as potentially becoming “one of the core regulatory institutions of the multipolar world order”. It consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Lavrov also said Russia supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Ukraine’s allies were staging their own diplomatic show of force.

The 75th NATO summit kicked off in Washington on Tuesday with the announcement that the alliance would place a senior official in Kyiv to “deepen Ukraine’s institutional relationship with the alliance”, in the words of Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser.

Opening the summit, United States President Joe Biden said US and European allies would be providing air defences to Ukraine. As part of that effort, the US announced on July 4 that it was drawing down $2.2bn in air defence interceptors for NASAMS and Patriot systems.

Slow slog on the ground

The map of Russian conquest in Ukraine did not change much during the past week, but there was fierce fighting in Chasiv Yar, a key Ukrainian stronghold on the eastern front that protects low-lying land to its west.

On July 3, Russian troops seized an area known as Kanal Microraion, which forms the easternmost extremity of Chasiv Yar, said Ukraine’s Khortytsia group of forces defending the area. That meant Russian troops had reached the Siversky Donetsk-Donbas Canal, which runs through the town and which Ukrainians have used as a natural defensive line.

A Ukrainian brigade confirmed that the canal had become the line of contact after the July 3 Russian advance.

A person carries a swimming ring near tetrapods used as barriers against a potentional attack by Russian military ships on the beach in the city of Chornomorsk in the Odesa region [Nina Liashonok/Reuters]

But Ukrainian troops appeared to stage a comeback on Monday. Geolocated footage showed them battling on a street in the western part of Kanal Microraion on the eastern side of the canal.

Another area of intense combat was the northern Kharkiv region, where Russia staged a new incursion on May 10 in an apparent bid to distract Ukrainian forces and weaken the defence of Chasiv Yar.

Kharkiv forces spokesman Yuriy Povkh said on Thursday that a Russian reconnaissance and sabotage group had crossed the border from Russia and entered the village of Sotnytskyi Kozachok, where Ukrainian forces were engaging them.

North of Kharkiv city, Ukrainian forces repelled a platoon-sized mechanized assault.

Ukraine also maintained deep strikes against Russia.

On Friday, its drones struck a gunpowder plant at Kotovsk in Russia’s Tambov region, 400km (250 miles) from Ukraine. It also struck a major oil depot in Rostov-on-Don, starting a fire there.

On Sunday, Ukrainian drones struck an ammunition depot in Sergeevka in the Voronezh region. The Security Service of Ukraine said the depot contained missiles, artillery shells and tank shells. Geolocated footage showed secondary explosions at the site.

Ukrainian security service sources also said on Tuesday that they had struck the Akhtubinsk military airfield in the Astrakhan region, an electrical substation in Yudino in the Rostov region and an oil depot in Kalach-on-Don.

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