Russia rejects withdrawal from Ukraine as a condition for negotiations

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia said Friday that the West is demanding that it withdraw completely from Ukraine as part of any future talks to end the war, effectively ruling out such talks as Russian attacks continued and a Ukrainian official set his country’s combat losses of up to 13,000 soldiers.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains open to negotiations, but the Western demand that Moscow first withdraw its troops from Ukraine is unacceptable.

Peskov’s comments came as Putin spoke by phone Friday morning with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Scholz’s office said he made it clear to Putin “that there must be a diplomatic solution as soon as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops.”

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden indicated that he would be willing to talk with Putin if he demonstrated that he really wanted to end the invasion and withdraw from Ukraine.

A statement issued by the Kremlin after the phone call with Scholz said Putin again blamed the West for encouraging Ukraine to prolong the war by supplying it with weapons.

Putin also said the recent crippling Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “forced and unavoidable” after Ukraine allegedly bombed a key bridge to the Crimean peninsula – which Russia captured from Ukraine in 2014 – and energy facilities.

Russian forces have bombarded Ukraine’s critical infrastructure since October, leaving millions without electricity amid frigid winter weather. Scholz’s office said that in the phone call with Putin, he “condemned in particular the Russian airstrikes on civilian infrastructure” in Ukraine and said Germany was committed to continuing to help Ukraine defend itself.

Russian forces continued rocket attacks on infrastructure and airstrikes against Ukrainian troop positions along the contact line, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Friday, adding that Moscow’s military push has focused on a dozen towns, including Bakhmut and Avdiivka – key Russian targets in the embattled east.

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, citing military commanders, said that since Russia invaded on February 24, 10,000 to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action. It was a rare comment on Ukraine’s military losses and far below estimates by Western leaders.

“We have official figures from the General Staff, we have official figures from the top command, and they amount to between 10,000 and 12,500-13,000 killed,” the adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said late Thursday on Channel 24 TV. He also said civilian casualties were “significant”.

The Ukrainian military has not confirmed such figures, and it was a rare instance of a Ukrainian official providing such a tally. The latest dates back to late August, when the head of the armed forces said nearly 9,000 military personnel had been killed. In June, Podolyak said up to 200 soldiers were dying each day in some of the most intense fighting and bloodshed so far in the war.

On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive commission, said 100,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed before her office corrected her comments – calling them inaccurate and saying the figure referred to both dead and wounded.

Zelenskyy’s office reported on Friday that at least three civilians were killed and 16 wounded in Ukraine over the past 24 hours. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the office’s deputy head, said on Telegram that Russian forces had attacked nine southeastern regions with heavy artillery, rockets and aircraft.

Ukrainians have been bracing for freezing winter temperatures as Russia’s recent campaign has hit infrastructure, including power plants and electrical transformers, leaving many without heat, water and electricity.

Ukraine has faced a barrage of Russian artillery fire and drone strikes since early October. Shelling has been particularly intense in Kherson since Russian forces withdrew and Ukraine’s army recaptured the southern city nearly three weeks ago.

The Kherson regional governor said three people were killed and seven wounded during shelling on Thursday. Russians hit residential areas of the city, some of which remained without electricity after Russian strikes on Thursday.

In the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian shelling has intensified significantly. The Russian army seeks to encircle the key city of Bakhmut by capturing several surrounding villages and cutting off an important road.

Russian attacks targeting cities across the Dnieper River from the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were also reported. And in northeastern Kharkiv province, officials said Russian shelling wounded two women.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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