Four Ukrainian soldiers killed in shelling, Kremlin holds talk on Donbas behind Ukraine’s back

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Four Ukrainian soldiers killed in shelling, Kremlin holds talk on Donbas behind Ukraine’s back

On March 26, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in Donbas as a result of another ceasefire violation. According to the Ukrainian military, Russian forces targeted Ukrainian positions with 82mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers, and heavy machine guns which were banned under the Minsk agreements. The attack, which took place near the settlement of Shumy, Donetsk Oblast, included six casualties: the four soldiers who were killed, and two more who were injured. This attack brings the total number of Ukrainian soldiers killed since the beginning of the year to 16. President Zelenskyy urged the leaders of the Normandy Format (Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France) to ensure a full, comprehensive ceasefire. Several other foreign ministers also called on Moscow to fulfill their commitments to upholding the Minsk agreements, yet Moscow continues to deny any active role in the conflict (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, March 26).

This past week, the Kremlin made initiatives to hold talks on Donbas with France and Germany without including Ukraine. On March 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed that discussions were in the works between Russia, France, and Germany regarding the latest developments in Donbas. In an interview with an UNIAN correspondent, Peskov stated that the talks with France and Germany were not meant to be held in “some kind of event in the Normandy Four format,” which is why Ukraine was excluded from the conversation. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted strongly to the Kremlin’s initiative to hold talks without Ukraine’s participation. “Ukraine’s position is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” said MFA Ukraine’s press secretary Oleh Nikolenko in a comment to UNIAN (UNIAN, March 26).

President Zelenskyy’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, stated that the United States could play a more active role in peace talks on ending the war in Donbas. Earlier this week, Yermak discussed recent escalations in Donbas with Jacob Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to the U.S. President. A cause of concern for Yermak is the ceasefire violations that have occurred over the last few months, which have led to multiple casualties among Ukrainian forces. Yermak also stated that the Center for Countering Disinformation has been established to combat the spread of disinformation, which continues to be a problem in resolving the conflict. Sullivan emphasized the need for cooperation in fighting against disinformation, as well as the United States’ continued efforts to support Ukraine (UNIAN, March 30).