Russia is seeking a “short truce” – a proposal Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vehemently dismissed as it would allow Moscow’s forces to regain strength after suffering a series of battlefield defeats.
Officials in Russia have repeatedly said they were ready to engage in peace talks without any conditions, but it is not clear if they have made a formal ceasefire offer as mentioned by Zelenskyy on Friday.
“Russia is now looking for a short truce, a respite to regain strength. Someone may call this the war’s end, but such a respite will only worsen the situation,” the Ukrainian leader said.
“A truly real, long-lasting and honest peace can only be the result of the complete demolition of Russian aggression.”
The United States has said only Zelenskyy can decide when to open peace talks with Russia, rejecting the notion it was pressing Kyiv to negotiate an end to the nearly nine-month war sparked by Moscow’s invasion.
General Mark Milley, the top US military officer, said this week that while Ukraine has achieved key battlefield successes, Moscow still controls 20 percent of the country, and it is unlikely Kyiv’s troops will force the Russians out any time soon.
Ukraine regained control of the strategically important city of Kherson in the south last week. It had been occupied by Russian troops since the beginning of the war in late February.
Kherson marked the third important counteroffensive after Ukraine forces pushed back Russian troops near Kyiv in April and retook large swaths of territory in the northeast in September.
Zelenskyy said on Monday “investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes” in Kherson.
The Conflict Observatory, a research group on war crimes under Yale University’s School of Public Health, said it documented 226 extrajudicial detentions and forced disappearances in the southern city. About one-quarter of that number were allegedly subjected to torture and four died in custody.
Most of the detentions and disappearances were carried out by the Russian military and FSB security agency, and half of those seized “do not appear to have been released”, the Conflict Observatory said in a report on Friday.
Men of military age – including civil servants, civil society leaders, teachers, law enforcement officers and journalists – made up a large part of those detained and disappeared.
“These findings demonstrate a range of alarming allegations about treatment of detainees, including allegations of deaths in custody; the widespread use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment … [and] sexual and gender-based violence,” the report said.
It cited sources as saying that after seizing Kherson in March, the Russians arrived with lists of names and licence plate numbers, targeting people they thought might resist their presence.
Crimean Tatars were also targeted and many were accused of belonging to what Russia labels a Tatar “terrorist” group.
The Conflict Observatory said while some of those detained were released, “many others remain in detention or are missing, their fates unknown to their families” since Russian forces withdrew from Kherson city.__Al Jazeera