The new week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began with peace talks between the two nations in Belarus. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said his country was seeking an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The Kremlin declined to comment on what Russia was looking for out of the Monday peace talks.
“As was discussed with the presidents Zelenskyy and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, you can feel completely safe,” A Belarusian official told the delegations at the beginning of the meeting. “Any of your requests and suggestions regarding today’s meeting will be accepted and complied with unquestionably.”
Monday’s peace talks regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine come on the same day Russian news agency Interfax reported the Russian army had captured the towns of Berdyansk and Enerhodar in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhya region. According to Interfax, Russia also took over the area around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.
Despite the capturing of two Ukrainian towns, the country’s military has been successful in slowing Russian advances while maintaining control of Kyiv and other key cities. However on Monday, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations said the toll taken from the first four days of the invasion “has become devastating.”
“According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, 352 people including 16 children, were killed and around 1,700 people, amongst them at least 160 children wounded,” Yevheniia Filipenko said at a Monday meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. “Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been internally displaced or became refugees. Ukrainian people have been subjected to regular bombing and shelling. Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed.”
The peace talks also came a day after President Putin put Russia’s nuclear-armed units on high alert. He cited sanctions and “aggressive statements” as reasons why.
“Not only are the Western countries engaged in unfriendly actions towards our country in the economic field – I’m talking about the illegitimate sanctions everyone knows about very well – but the top NATO member countries’ officials allow themselves aggressive statements towards our country as well,” Putin said Sunday.
Those sanctions have taken a major economic toll on Russia. On Monday, the ruble dropped more than 30% compared to the U.S. dollar after western nations including the U.S. decided to block Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system. The Russian central bank had to raise its key rate from 9.5% to 20% in response.
“Russia is slowly running out of money and that is why the central bank is trying to keep capital in Russia by a dramatic raise of the interest rate,” Robert Halver, the head of market research at Germany’s Baader Bank, said Monday. “We are already seeing that single Russian banks are going bankrupt because they have no more access to funds and a bank without liquidity is like a steak lover without steaks.”