Putin says Russia accepts peace talks with Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he does not reject the idea of peace talks on Ukraine, amid escalating tensions and violence in the region. Talking after meeting African leaders in St Petersburg, he said an African peace initiative, as well as a Chinese one, could serve as a basis for locating a friendly solution to the conflict.

President Putin also stated it was hard to enforce a ceasefire when the Ukrainian army was on the offensive, and accused Kyiv of violating the Minsk agreements that were signed in 2015 to finish the war. He said there were no plans to boost actions on the Ukrainian front for now, but warned that Russia would respond to any provocations by Ukraine.

The Russian leader also defended the Kremlin’s arrest of critical voices, claiming some people were harming Russia from the inside. He said Moscow carried out some “prophylactic walkouts” after an explosion on a Crimean bridge earlier this month, which he blamed on Ukraine. Kyiv did not officially say it was responsible for the blast on the bridge, which links the occupied peninsula to Russia.

The Russia-Africa summit comes after an African contingent including leaders and representatives from seven countries met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Mr Putin last month. The African mission aimed to facilitate dialogue and mediation between the two sides, and to explore ways to end the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

On the ground, one person was killed and five others injured after a rocket attack in the north-eastern city of Sumy, Ukraine’s interior ministry said. The ministry said on Telegram that a Russian missile hit an educational institution on Saturday evening. Elsewhere, two people were killed and another was injured after a rocket hit “an open area” in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, an official said.

President Zelensky has been visiting Ukrainian special forces near Bakhmut, the city where some of the most vicious fighting of the war has been taking place. Ukrainian authorities have said Kyiv’s troops are gradually moving forward near the eastern city, which Russian forces grabbed in May.

The war in eastern Ukraine had killed more than 13,000 people since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist rebels in the Donbas region. Despite several attempts to end the conflict, a lasting peace deal has remained elusive. The US and its allies have imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in the war, and have expressed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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