Chris Lange, FISM News
Foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey are meeting today in the highest-level talks so far concerning Russia’s war on Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba “will open the door to a permanent cease-fire.” Kubela, however, said he did not have “high expectations,” according to an AP report.
The talks come a day after Russian forces bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in the port city of Mariupol, killing two adults and one child and wounding 17 others, including women awaiting birth. The World Health Organization has confirmed 18 attacks on medical cities in Ukraine so far since Russia invaded Feb. 24.
Mariupol continues to suffer brutal, relentless assaults by Russian forces who have surrounded the strategic port city, trapping some 400,000 people with no access to food and water, as many residents have resorted to melting snow in order to have something to drink. One 6-year-old girl trapped under rubble from shelling died from dehydration, according to the city council. The city is also without power, with nighttime temperatures hovering just above freezing.
Thousands are hoping to escape the horrifying carnage through seven safe exit routes agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia, with Moscow promising daylong ceasefires in those areas. This marks the third consecutive day of evacuation efforts through humanitarian corridors, but citizens fleeing along many of the routes have been shelled by Russian forces and, in some cases, found the routes full of landmines. Still, 35,000 Ukrainians have managed to flee through evacuation routes.
Meanwhile, more than 2 million refugees, half of them children, have fled to neighboring countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Hungary. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, among the refugees, medical providers are seeing multiple cases of “hypothermia and frostbite, respiratory diseases, lack of treatment for cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and mental health issues.” Unlike those who managed to get out of Ukraine during the first few days of the war, more recent evacuees have experienced the horrors of hiding in cellars and shelters under heavy shelling and witnessing the aftermath of death and destruction.
New concerns surround Chernobyl nuclear power plant
On March 4, Russian forces took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. Nuclear experts initially indicated that the situation posed no imminent danger.
This week, however, power has been completely cut off from all site facilities, causing renewed alarm. According to a Ukrainian electrical grid operator, as reported by AP, the plant’s diesel generators have only 48-hours’ worth of fuel. Without power, the “parameters of nuclear and radiation safety” cannot be controlled, according to officials.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the plant, now occupied by Russian forces, has “lost all electric supply.” He called on the international community “to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply.”
White House warns Russia may use chemical, biological weapons next; denies U.S. funded labs
Meanwhile, the White House has confirmed the vulnerability of chemical and biological weapons labs in Ukraine that could soon come under Russian control, leading to fears of chemical and biological warfare. The Biden administration has repeatedly denied Russia’s accusations that the Ukrainian labs are funded by the U.S. government. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week accused Ukraine of operating chemical and biological research facilities with support from the U.S., a claim that has been repeated by China.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the accusation is propaganda fabricated by the Kremlin but did acknowledge the Ukrainian labs pose a threat.
“This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” Psaki tweeted Wednesday. “Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby called the accusations “malarkey” at a Wednesday press conference.
But Filippa Lentzos, a senior lecturer in science and international security at King’s College London said the “public and animal health facilities” have, in fact, received money from the U.S. Department of Defense threat reduction program, according to an AP report.
U.S. scrambles to right ‘temporary breakdown in communication’ with Poland following MIG mix-up
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Wednesday described Poland’s offer to provide MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine through the U.S., and the DOD’s polite declination of that offer, “a temporary breakdown in communication” during a press briefing yesterday.
Kirby told reporters that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Polish counterpart after the offer had been made and explained that “we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force at this time, and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody, either.” Kirby went on to list the reasons for the decision to rebuff Poland’s proposal to facilitate transfer of the jets to Ukraine via the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, stating that the U.S. is already providing the anti-armor and air defense weapons to Ukraine and that providing additional aircraft “is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities.” He went on to say that such an arrangement “may be mistaken [by Russia] as escalatory.”
Amid this very public communication breakdown at a time when NATO members seek to project unity, Kamala Harris arrived in Warsaw Wednesday on a previously-arranged mission to offer reassurance of U.S. support. Today, she is set to hold bilateral meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieki. Harris will also meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also in Poland.