Chance for peace ‘minimal,’ UN chief says after phone call with Vladimir Putin

The prospects for peace in Ukraine are “minimal” at present, the United Nations chief lamented on Wednesday after a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he and Mr Putin discussed efforts to overcome “obstacles” that remain related to Russia’s food and fertiliser exports but warned it would be “naive” to believe there has been sufficient progress towards a rapid end to the war in Ukraine.”I have the feeling we are still far away from peace. I would be lying if I would say it could happen soon,” Mr Guterres told a press conference.”I have no illusion; at the present moment, the chances of a peace deal are minimal,” he added, noting that even a ceasefire is “not in sight.”Despite his bleak assessment of the war that has raged since Russia invaded its neighbour in late February, Mr Guterres stressed he was maintaining contact with both sides and expressed hope that “one day it will be possible to go to a higher level of discussion.”In the meantime, talks continue on Russian exports.Mr Guterres said he spoke with President Putin earlier Wednesday and that they discussed the exports initiative “and its extension and its possible expansion.”A two-part agreement — allowing both the flow of Ukraine’s grain exports blocked by the war and Russia’s food and fertiliser exports — was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July and is scheduled to last 120 days.While some three million tons of grain have been allowed to leave Ukraine, Russia says exports of its own foodstuffs and fertiliser continue to suffer under Western sanctions, which have targeted Moscow for its military assault.Exports through the Black Sea”There are some exports of Russian food and fertilisers but much lower than what is desirable and needed,” Mr Guterres said, adding there is a discussion about the possibility of Russian ammonia exports through the Black Sea.Ammonia, a key fertiliser ingredient, is produced by combining nitrogen from the air with hydrogen derived from natural gas.Several European fertiliser manufacturers have stopped producing ammonia because of soaring gas prices.Mr Guterres warned the fertiliser crisis had reached a “dramatic” level, repeating his fears of a global food shortage next year.He said he also spoke with Mr Putin about prisoners of war and the state of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.A woman looks through donated clothes left by the fence of a church in Mariupol on 14 September, 2022. Source: Getty / STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images’Moving towards victory’Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday promised “victory” on a visit to the strategic city of Izyum that was recently recaptured from Russia by Kyiv’s army in a lightning counter-offensive.The visit comes at a decisive moment in Russia’s six-month invasion, with Ukraine expelling Moscow’s forces from swathes of the east and seriously challenging the Kremlin’s ambition to capture the entire Donbas region of Ukraine.”Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in de-occupied Izyum. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village,” President Zelenskyy said in a statement on social media.”We are moving in only one direction — forward and towards victory.”Pictures distributed by his office showed the Ukrainian leader wearing dark green and flanked by guards as he took selfies with soldiers and thanked troops at a flag-hoisting ceremony.Ukraine has claimed sweeping successes in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia in recent days and also says it has clawed back territory along a southern front near the Kherson region on the Black Sea.Mr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that Russia’s occupation of Crimea — annexed by Russia in 2014 — was a “tragedy” and promised that his forces would eventually recapture the peninsula.Kyiv’s forces in the Kharkiv region have, since 6 September, recaptured around 8,500 square kilometres and areas home to some 150,000 people, said deputy foreign affairs minister Ganna Maliar.Experts exhume the bodies of two men killed during the Russian occupation of the village in March as part of the investigation in Hrakove village which was recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from Russian invaders, Chuhuiv district, Kharkiv Region, northeastern Ukraine. Credit: (Photo credit: Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)’They killed my son’In the reclaimed eastern Ukrainian village of Bogorodychne, 58-year-old Mykola told AFP he had “barely survived” the Russian occupation during which his brother was killed.”How can I describe it in words? It was difficult. I was afraid,” he said.Wiping tears from her eyes with a veil, Mr Mykola’s mother Nina said: “I cry every day. They killed my son.”Moscow said its forces were hitting back on areas recaptured in Kharkiv with “massive strikes”, also claiming to have captured dozens of Ukrainian servicemen in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.German Chancellor Olaf Scholz disclosed the contents of a 90-minute telephone conversation with Mr Putin Wednesday, saying the Russian leader did not feel he had made a mistake in invading Ukraine.”There was no indication that new attitudes are emerging,” he said of Tuesday’s conversation.The Kremlin said Mr Putin himself had discussed getting Ukrainian grain to those most in need in a telephone conversation with UN chief Antonio Guterres.”Both sides emphasised the importance of meeting the needs, as a priority, of those in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America who need food,” said a statement from his office Wednesday.The Kremlin, which has made little mention of the setbacks in recent days, vowed to continue fighting, claiming that the perceived threat Kyiv posed to Russia remained.The Ukrainian official in charge of the eastern Donetsk region, partially controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014, said Russian forces had attacked the entire frontline region over the past 24 hours.Ukrainian forces arrive at the Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal as Russia-Ukraine war continues in, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on 14 September, 2022. Source: Anadolu / (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)’Matter of life and death’Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk governor, said one civilian had been killed and again urged all others to leave, describing the order as a “matter of life and death”.Military observers have credited the success of Ukraine’s pushback into the east on Western-supplied arms, particularly long-range precision artillery, and on the training of Ukrainian forces by Western allies.The Ukrainian military announced on social media Wednesday that some 5,000 Ukrainian military personnel had been trained as part of a joint programme with the United Kingdom.Western countries have also hit back against Russia with waves of economic sanctions.EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said the successive packages of EU measures against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine would remain and that Europeans had to keep their resolve against Moscow.”I want to make it very clear, the sanctions are here to stay. This is the time for us to show resolve, not appeasement,” she said in the European Parliament during her annual State of the Union speech.Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska attended the gathering in Strasbourg, receiving a standing ovation from lawmakers.She also told MEPs that she would travel Wednesday to Kyiv to meet Mr Zelenskyy.