Field and political developments continue on the 56th day of the Russian war on Ukraine, and the battles at the Azovstal Factory in Mariupol are leading the way. The last stronghold of the Ukrainian forces in the city, amid mutual accusations of obstructing the negotiation process and American pessimism about its course.
This evening, the second deadline granted by the Russian Defense Ministry to the Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal plant expired. The last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, in order to stop the fighting and hand over their weapons, but the commander of one of the units believed to be holding out in the besieged city said that his forces could only stay for days or hours.
This is the second deadline after the Ukrainian fighters refused the first ultimatum granted by the Russians on Tuesday, while Russian media published pictures that they said were of Chechen forces controlling tanks and vehicles of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion entrenched in the Azovstal factory in Mariupol.
Concurrently with the end of the Russian deadline, a senior Ukrainian official announced on Wednesday evening that his country had proposed to Russia to hold a “special round” of negotiations in the besieged city of Mariupol.
“Yes, without any conditions, we are ready for a special round of negotiations in Mariupol itself,” Ukraine’s chief negotiator and presidential adviser, Mikhailo Podolyak, said in a tweet on Twitter, “with the aim of saving our people, Azov, soldiers, civilians, children, the living and the wounded.”
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for urgent international military support to break the siege on the city of Mariupol. In response to a question by Al Jazeera at a press conference with the President of the European Council Charles Michel in Kyiv; Zelensky said Ukraine does not currently have the weapons needed to retake Mariupol, but it does have the will. He added that his country was ready to exchange Russian prisoners for fighters defending Mariupol.
The commander of the 36th Marine Brigade of the Ukrainian Army in Mariupol, Serhiy Volina, had called for the soldiers and civilians to be removed to a third country in a safe manner, as he described it.
As for the spokesman of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Oleksandr Shpotun, he said that controlling the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and ending the resistance is Russia’s top priority, as he put it.
Shubton added that Russia continues to launch attacks on various cities in Lugansk and Donetsk (east of the country), and that their forces succeeded in repelling 10 attacks by the Russian forces and destroyed their equipment during those battles.
In humanitarian terms, the mayor of Mariupol expressed his hope that 6,000 people would be evacuated from the besieged city in 90 buses today.
In turn, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk announced that a preliminary agreement had been reached with the Russian side to open a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the city of Mariupol, noting that the groups covered by the agreement that will be allowed to leave Mariupol are women, children and the elderly.
The Ukrainian official explained – in a Facebook post – that the government’s efforts are now focused on the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the city of Mariupol.
On the other hand, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that its forces destroyed 70 Ukrainian military sites last night, and talked about the killing of about 40 Ukrainian soldiers after targeting them with missiles, which it described as ultra-accurate.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov published pictures of what he said was raising the Russian flag and the flag of the Chechen Republic at the entrance to the city of Robyzhny in Lugansk Province.
Kadyrov said – in his account on Telegram – that what he called the joint forces of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Chechen special forces took full control of the city, which witnessed fierce battles in recent weeks.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced the successful test launch of the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.
The ministry said that the missile – which it described as the most powerful and longest-range in the world – was launched from the “Plesetsk” cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region, and accurately hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated the Russian army on the successful launch of the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, describing it as a great and important event in the development of promising weapons systems for the Russian army, as he put it.
He said that the Russian missile “has no analogue anywhere else” and would force anyone trying to threaten Russia to think more than once.
The Russian President stressed that his country will achieve the goal of what he called the military operation launched in Ukraine, which is the gradual normalization of life in Donbas, as he put it.
In contrast, US military officials said that Russia notified the United States before conducting a test of the new ballistic missile.
A US military official said the new Russian missile test was routine and did not pose any threat.
The military official added that the United States is training a small number of Ukrainian forces on howitzers outside the country.
Regarding the future of the negotiations, Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs, expressed her pessimism about the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian negotiations.
Nuland said – in statements to an American television station – that negotiations between the two sides are still continuing, but the situation calls for pessimism due to Putin’s insistence on the surrender of Ukraine, as she put it.
Nuland stressed that Washington will continue to provide all kinds of weapons that the Ukrainians need in this battle, and that the required adjustments must be made to them as the nature of the fighting changes.
The US official believed that the Ukrainians were fighting a fierce war against what she called a “brutal dictator.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed by phone with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations.
She added that Lavrov told Cavusoglu that there was no future for his country’s negotiations with Ukraine if Kyiv did not take Russian demands into account.
In turn, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that the Ukrainians and the Russians are still negotiating despite all circumstances, and that there are positive signs about Putin and Zelensky’s meeting in Istanbul, but with conditions for both parties.
He stressed that the most sensitive issues on both sides are related to the Crimea and the Donbass region.
The Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, accused Ukraine of backing away from its commitments in the talks, and demanded a clear position.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian presidency reiterated that negotiations would stop if Russian forces took control of the city of Mariupol.
Finland and joining NATO
In Finland, Parliament began a session to discuss the draft accession project to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called the White Document, which defines the end of the country’s historical neutrality.
Al-Jazeera correspondent said that 109 of the parliamentarians – numbering 200 – announced their support for Helsinki’s joining NATO, while 12 members opposed.
The government team, with all its ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, participated in the parliamentary session.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said – at the opening of the session – that if an application for NATO membership is applied, Finland should prepare to deal with the expected reactions, and added that security policy decisions are in the hands of the Finns and not directed against anyone.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Finland’s Foreign Minister said that there is a majority in his country of citizens and parties in support of the country’s joining NATO, and that this rise in support – which he described as a missile – was the result of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
He pointed out that his country knows Russia’s unwillingness to expand NATO towards its borders, but Finland takes its decisions from a defensive standpoint.
The head of the Finnish Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee told Al Jazeera that “the situation has changed after the Russian invasion, and this is why our way of thinking has changed,” stressing that his country will make its decisions based on its current circumstances.
Russia warned Finland and Sweden of what it called the consequences of their joining the alliance. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that NATO countries have raised the level of support for Ukraine with weapons, including the United States, which has provided it with helicopters.
In statements – during her regular meeting with the media – Zakharova added that these Mi-17 helicopters can be used to target Russian territory, as she put it.