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Russia oil warning as Ukraine talks stall

Russia warns that oil prices could surge to $US300 a barrel and it might close the main gas pipeline to Germany if the West halts oil imports over the invasion of Ukraine as peace talks make little progress.

Mar 08, 2022, updated Mar 08, 2022

The incursion, the biggest attack on a European state since World War II, has prompted 1.7 million people to flee, a raft of sanctions on Moscow, an exodus of foreign firms, and fears of wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.

Sieges and the bombing of Ukrainian cities continue.

A Russian strike on a bread factory killed 13 in the town of Makariv in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian officials said. Reuters could not verify the details. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States said Washington and its European allies are considering banning Russian oil imports. Oil prices spiked to their highest levels since 2008.

“A rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak on Monday, adding the price could more than double to over $US300 a barrel.

US President Joe Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain as he pushed for their support on the ban.

But if need be the United States was willing to move ahead without allies in Europe, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Many countries on the continent are heavily reliant on Russian energy.

Germany last month froze the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

“We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline,” Novak said.

More than 1.7 million Ukrainians have fled to Central Europe since the conflict began on February 24, the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday, with more than one million arriving in neighbouring Poland.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

After the third attempt to ease the bloodshed at talks in Belarus, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said although small progress on agreeing logistics for the evacuation of civilians had been made, things remained largely unchanged.

Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky told journalists the talks were “not easy”.

“We hope that from tomorrow these corridors will finally work,” he said.

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A fourth round of talks would take place very soon, Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky told Russian state television.

“Our president is not scared of anything, including a direct meeting with Putin,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “If Putin is also not scared, let him come to the meeting, let them sit down and talk.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Moscow would halt operations if Ukraine ceased fighting, amended its constitution to declare neutrality, and recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of regions held by Russian-backed separatists.

Russia had offered Ukrainians escape routes to Russia and Belarus early on Monday after weekend evacuation ceasefire attempts failed. A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russian proposal was “completely immoral”.

In the encircled southern port city of Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of people remained trapped without food and water under regular bombardments.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were “beginning to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv” after days of slow progress in their main advance south from Belarus.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, police said a further 10 people had been killed in the past day, taking the total death toll there from Russian bombardment to 143 since the start of the invasion.

In Irpin, people picked their way over the twisted ruins of a large bridge, with river water rushing just beneath them.

Ukraine said on Monday its forces had retaken the town of Chuhuiv in the northeast after heavy fighting and of the strategic Mykolayiv airport in the south.

Moscow has acknowledged nearly 500 deaths among its soldiers, but Western countries say the true number is much higher.

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