Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Ukraine must meet Moscow’s demand for “demilitarisation” and “denazification”, as well as the removal of the military threat to Russia, or “the Russian army [will] solve the issue”.
Mr Lavrov also accused the West of fuelling the war in Ukraine to weaken Russia, and said that it depended on Kyiv and Washington how long the conflict – which started on February 24th when Russia invaded Ukraine – would last.
“As for the duration of the conflict, the ball is on the side of the [Kyiv] regime and Washington that stands behind its back,” Mr Lavrov told the state Tass news agency.
In an apparent reaction, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that “Russia needs to face the reality”.
“Neither total mobilisation, nor panicky search for ammo, nor secret contracts with Iran, nor Lavrov’s threats will help,” he said.
“Ukraine will demilitarise the RF [Russian Federation[ to the end, oust the invaders from all occupied territories. Wait for the finale silently ... ”
A day earlier, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Associated Press in an interview that his government wanted a summit to end the war but that he did not anticipate Russia taking part.
Mr Kuleba said Ukraine wanted a “peace” summit within two months with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres acting as mediator. But he also said that Russia must face a war-crimes tribunal before his country directly talks with Moscow.
Both statements illustrate how complex and difficult any attempts to end the war could be.
Ukraine has said in the past that it would not negotiate with Russia before the full withdrawal of its troops, while Moscow insisted its military gains and the 2014 annexation of the Crimea Peninsula could not be ignored.
Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued on Tuesday in the Russia-claimed Donetsk and Luhansk regions that have recently been the scene of the most intense clashes.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said that Russian forces were trying to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, but without success.
Heavy battles were also under way around the city of Kreminna in the Luhansk region, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said.
In the partially occupied southern Kherson region, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian-held areas 40 times on Monday, wounding one person, Ukrainian authorities said.
The city of Kherson itself – which Ukraine retook last month in a major win – was targeted 11 times, regional administrator Yaroslav Yanushevich said.
Since its initial advances at the start of the war 10 months ago, Russia has made few major gains, often pummelling Ukraine’s infrastructure instead and leaving millions without electricity, heating and hot water amid winter conditions.
Mr Lavrov did not specify how the Russian army would achieve its goals of demilitarising and “denazifying” Ukraine – which was Russia’s stated goal when the invasion started.
The reference to “denazification” comes from Russia’s allegations that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The claim is derided by Ukraine and the West.
Mr Lavrov warned that further Western support for Ukraine could lead to direct confrontation.
“We keep warning our adversaries in the West about the dangers of their course to escalate the Ukrainian crisis,” he said.
He added that “the risk that the situation could spin out of control remains high”.
“The strategic goal of the US and its Nato allies is to win a victory over Russia on the battlefield to significantly weaken or even destroy our country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Tuesday banning oil exports to countries that support a $60-per-barrel price cap that was declared by the European Union and G7 countries in a bid to reduce Moscow’s revenue during wartime.
The ban takes effect in February and will run through July.
The price cap is higher than the figure Russian oil has sold for in recent weeks, so the potential effects of Mr Putin’s ban are uncertain.