Blinken includes peace agreement and Russia’s withdrawal mandatory for Ukraine ceasefire

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KYIV (AP) US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine cannot be declared unless it is part of a “just and lasting” peace deal that stipulates Russia’s military withdrawal. 

Blinken said it would be a “truce that would only freeze the current front lines” and would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to “strengthen control over the occupied territories, rest, rearm and strike again.” 

Russia, too, must pay its share in rebuilding Ukraine and be held accountable for launching a full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February 2022, said Blinken.

Mr Blinken said allowing Russia to retain a fifth of the occupied Ukraine territory would send the wrong message to Russia and “other potential aggressors around the world”.

But Russia wants talks over Ukraine’s NATO membership application. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is pushing for the country’s entry into the Western military alliance, which the Kremlin sees as a threat.

“Of course, this (problem) will be one of the biggest nuisances and potential problems for many years to come,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Blinken said the United States stands ready to support peace efforts by others, including recent offers by China and Brazil. However, any peace agreement must uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. The United States is a major Western ally, supplying Kiev with weapons to help stop the Kremlin forces.

China, which is neutral and wants to act as a mediator but politically backs Moscow, urged countries to stop supplying Ukraine with weapons.

In Ukraine on Friday, the air defense forces shot down more than 30 Russian cruise missiles and drones during Moscow’s sixth air strike on Kiev in six days, local officials said.

The Ukrainian capital was hit simultaneously from different directions by Iranian-made Shahid drones and cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea region, senior Kiev official Serhiy Popko wrote in Telegram.

A 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were injured in the attack, according to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office. Houses, villas and automobiles were damaged by falling debris. The latest wave of attacks on the capital has strained the population and tested the strength of Ukraine’s air defenses, but Kiev authorities are launching an imminent counteroffensive to push back Kremlin forces 15 months after a full-scale invasion. claiming to be planning Kiev has been the target of drone and rocket attacks for 17 days last month, including daytime attacks.

But Russia’s strategy could backfire, according to the Institute for War Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

According to an assessment late Thursday, the air force operation “is intended to weaken Ukraine’s ability to counterattack, but . Capabilities are likely to be further limited.” Ukrainian chief of staff Valery Zardini said Ukrainian air defenses had intercepted all 15 cruise missiles and 21 attack drones.

At least four civilians have been killed and 42 injured in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s president’s office said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s border areas are under renewed attack from Ukraine. Recent cross-border attacks have also rocked these parts of Russia, putting the Kremlin on high alert.

This could be a Ukrainian strategy to disperse Russian forces before a counteroffensive begins. “Russian commanders now face a serious dilemma between defending (strengthening) Russia’s borders and consolidating their fronts in occupied Ukraine,” the UK Defense Ministry said.

In the Kursk region of southern Russia, which borders Ukraine, air defense systems shot down “several Ukrainian drones” on Thursday night, regional governor Roman Starovoit wrote on Telegram.

In neighboring Bryansk oblast, which also borders Ukraine, Ukrainian forces shelled two villages on Friday morning, Governor Alexander Bogomaz said. No casualties were reported.

Two drones also attacked a power plant in the Smolensk region in western Russia, which borders Belarus, early Friday morning, officials said.