Ukrainian service members rest on the front line in the north Kyiv region, Ukraine March 18, 2022.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Saturday for meaningful talks with Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, warning it would take "several generations" for Moscow to recover from battlefield losses if it does not reverse course.
Since launching an assault on Feb. 24, Russian troops facing tough resistance have largely stalled in their advance, even as they encroach on the capital Kyiv. Looking to regain momentum, they have laid siege to cities and blasted urban areas to rubble.
Unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at isolating Russia's economy have done little to halt what President Vladimir Putin calls a "special operation" to reduce its neighbour's military capabilities and "denazify" its government.
After Russia said it was "tightening the noose" around the key port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, Ukraine's defence ministry acknowledged on Friday it had "temporarily" lost access to that body of water, which connects to the Black Sea and would be a major loss for Ukraine.
But Western officials say that Russia has taken heavy losses with signs of flagging morale amongst its troops, a trend Zelenskiy alluded to in a video message in which he urged renewed negotiations to end the war.
"I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk," he said early on Saturday. "The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia's losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover."
Russia acknowledged on March 2 that nearly 500 of its soldiers had been killed but has given no update since. Ukraine says the number now amounts to many thousands. Reuters is unable to independently verify the death count.
Kyiv and Moscow reported some progress in talks this week towards a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine security protection outside of the NATO alliance.
But Ukraine said the need for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops remained, and both sides accused each other on Friday of dragging out the talks.
Cities in eastern Ukraine have come under intensive Russian shelling, and there have been nightly deadly missile attacks on Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces have halted troop columns outside the city. Russia has also made dramatic strikes over the past week deep into western Ukraine.
Putin has vowed to continue the invasion until it succeeds, promising tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags at a soccer stadium in Moscow on Friday that Russia "will absolutely accomplish all of our plans."
The United States has repeatedly warned that Russia may turn for assistance to China, the biggest power that has not condemned the assault.
In a video call on Friday, President Joe Biden warned China's President Xi Jinping there would be "consequences" if Beijing provides "material support" to Russia in Ukraine, the White House said. It said sanctioning Beijing was an option.
China and Russia deny Beijing is considering giving Moscow military aid. China says it wants to see an end to the conflict.
Source: Reuters / Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by William Mallard
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