Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – The United Nations humanitarian chief said Thursday he was not optimistic about reaching a ceasefire the fighting in Ukraine after high-level talks in Moscow and Kyiv that highlighted just how far apart the two sides are.
Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths gave the somber assessment in an interview with The Associated Press in the Ukrainian capital after concluding talks with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other senior officials. This was followed by talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow earlier this week.
“I think it’s not going to be easy because, as I know now, the two sides have very little trust in each other,” he said.
“I’m not optimistic,” he later added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dispatched Griffiths to Russian and Ukrainian capitals to study the possibility of a ceasefire that would allow much-needed aid to Ukraine and potentially lay the groundwork for talks to end the war.
Griffiths suggested that the target remained far off.
“Of course we all want that to happen. But as you know – you’re here – that’s not going to happen immediately,” he said.
Russia launched its attack on Ukraine just over six weeks ago, on February 24th. The fighting has displaced millions of people inside the country and prompted more than 4 million Ukrainians to seek refuge abroad.
The UN Human Rights Office has registered more than 1,400 civilians killed in the fighting, although the actual death toll is certainly higher.
Representatives of the two countries have held a series of meetings via video link and in person, but those talks have not ended the fighting.
Close to a full ceasefire, Griffiths said he’s looking at ways to build trust on both sides and focus on smaller goals, like establishing local ceasefires in parts of the country and creating humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to join the fighting to escape.
“This war will not end tomorrow,” he said. “We’re a little bit closer to getting understanding from both sides… of what a local truce would do. There are many parts of Ukraine where we can achieve local ceasefires tomorrow, defined geographically and in terms of time.”
Aid has started to flow to some harder-to-reach parts of the country, he noted.
Russian troops have withdrawn from parts of Ukraine, particularly around Kyiv, ahead of what many believe was an increased push into the east of the country.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday renewed his country’s call for more weapons from NATO countries, pointing to atrocities that have come to light in the city of Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops have withdrawn in recent days .
Local ceasefires could mean progress even in areas with no ongoing fighting, Griffiths said, because they require forces to remain stationary and therefore unable to regroup elsewhere.
Aid groups are struggling to get relief supplies to those in need.
Last week, members of a Red Cross convoy were prevented from reaching the besieged city of Mariupol to help evacuate a convoy of civilians. They were arrested once during their mission and ended up escorting about 1,000 people who had made their own way from Mariupol to a city further west.
An overwhelming majority of the 193-member UN General Assembly twice, on March 2nd and March 24th, called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine.
Griffiths said he expects to travel to Turkey in the next week or two for further talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire. The country, which shares a Black Sea coast with Russia and Ukraine, has ties with both and has positioned itself as a facilitator for peace negotiations.
He also expects to return to Moscow and described his recent visit as a first round of talks.
“Look, I’m used to the idea that a truce, which I’m charged with trying to achieve, will take time,” he said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine