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Russia agrees ‘in principle’ to UN and Red Cross involvement in evacuations from Mariupol

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Russia has agreed “in principle” to UN involvement in the evacuation of citizens from the last remaining holdout in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, following a meeting between Secretary-General António Guterres and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.
The UN chief, who was in the Russian capital for talks on the war in Ukraine, also met with the country’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.

During his “tête-a-tête meeting” with President Putin, Mr. Guterres reiterated the UN’s position on Ukraine, according to a readout issued by his Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

They also discussed proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, namely in relation to the situation in the besieged port city of Mariupol, where thousands of civilians and Ukrainian troops remain holed up in the Azovstal steel mill.

The President agreed, in principle, to the involvement of the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol”, said Mr. Dujarric.

He added that follow-on discussions will be held with the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, and the Russian Defence Ministry. 

‘Frank discussion’

Mr. Guterres told reporters that he had held “a very frank discussion” with Mr. Lavrov “and it is clear that there are two different positions on what is happening in Ukraine.”

Russia has said it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, while for the UN, the 24 February invasion is a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and goes against the UN Charter.

“But it is my deep conviction that the sooner we end this war, the better – for the people of Ukraine, for the people of the Russian Federation, and those far beyond,” he said.

Underlining his role as a “messenger of peace”, the Secretary-General recalled that the UN has repeatedly appealed for ceasefires to protect civilians, as well as political dialogue towards a solution, which so far has not happened.

Referring to the “violent battle” underway across the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, he noted that many civilians are being killed, and hundreds of thousands are trapped by the conflict, adding that repeated reports of violations, as well as possible war crimes, will require independent investigation for effective accountability.

UN Russia/Yuri Kochin

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian capital, Moscow.

Humanitarian corridors

“We urgently need humanitarian corridors that are truly safe and effective and that are respected by all to evacuate civilians and deliver much-needed assistance.”

The Secretary-General has proposed establishment of a Humanitarian Contact Group – comprising Russia, Ukraine and the UN – “to look for opportunities for the opening of safe corridors, with local cessations of hostilities, and to guarantee that they are actually effective. “ 

Addressing the “crisis within a crisis” in Mariupol, where thousands are in dire need of life-saving assistance, and for many, evacuation, he underlined the UN’s readiness to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives.

Mr. Guterres has proposed that the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Ukrainian and Russian forces, coordinate work to both enable the safe evacuation of civilians who want to leave Mariupol – both inside the last redoubt of the Azovstal steel plant, and in the city itself, and in any direction they choose – and to deliver humanitarian aid.

Global shock waves

Turning to the wider impacts of the war, the Secretary-General spoke of some of the “shock waves” being felt across the globe, such as the “dramatic acceleration” in food and energy costs, which particularly are affecting millions of the world’s most vulnerable people.

“This comes on top of the shock of the continued COVID-19 pandemic and uneven access to resources for recovery, that particularly penalize developing countries around the world.  So, the sooner peace is established, the better – for the sake of Ukraine, Russia, and for the world,” he said.  

“And it’s very important, even in this moment of difficulty, to keep alive the values of multilateralism,” he added.

The Secretary-General underlined the need for a world that is “multipolar”, that abides by the UN Charter and international law, and which recognizes full equality among States, in hopes that humanity will again unite to address common challenges such as climate change “and in which the only war we should have would be a war of those that put the planet at risk. 

The Secretary-General will be in Ukraine on Thursday where he will have a working meeting with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and he will be received by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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