Graves in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Graves in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine  (ANSA)

No sign of peace talks as death toll climbs in war-torn Ukraine

Government leaders on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war remain reluctant to start negotiations immediately, with NATO expansion imminent and battles raging in Ukraine.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report

By Stefan J. Bos

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin's goals, that of preventing further expansion of the NATO military alliance, seems to be under threat.

Hungary is sending a delegation to Sweden and Finland on Tuesday to discuss their entry into the NATO military alliance. Both countries want to join amid concerns that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will spread to other nations.

Hungary is the last European Union country expected to ratify NATO expansion despite its disagreements with Sweden and Finland.

Both Nordic countries have criticized the Hungarian government's perceived violations of the rule of law and democratic values.

After Hungary, only Turkey will have to ratify the NATO expansion, with Finland expected to be the first to enter the alliance.

Russia views the NATO move as a further threat to its security, but the West says the enlargement may not have happened without Moscow invading Ukraine.

Yet there were no signs Monday that the Russian invasion would end quickly despite a rapidly increasing death toll. U.S., and other Western officials now estimate that the number of total casualties on the Russian side -- including dead and wounded -- is approaching 200,000.

Bloodiest conflict in decades

But many thousands are also believed to have died on the Ukrainian side. If confirmed, it would make this Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War Two, surpassing the horrors of the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Moscow has acknowledged "significant" losses, but last reported accumulated casualties of under 6,000 by September. Many troops and civilians have died around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where fierce fighting continued Monday.

Yet with NATO rapidly expanding and recent losses on the battlefield, Moscow appears to view the Battle of Bakhmut as a way to regain at least some territory in Ukraine.

However, with the conflict and its trenches increasingly resembling World War One, calls for peace talks or a ceasefire have become even louder.

China is the latest big power to have presented a plan for peace talks. But Ukraine's chief negotiator David Arakhamia remains skeptical. "The good sign is that China also started to feel that they also have to participate in some mitigation of the war. Because before, if you looked a year ago, they tried to pretend ss nothing happened. So it is a good sign that in their ideas or concepts, they are saying we have to obey the United Nations statute, which has to respect the legal borders of the country. So it plays for us." Arakhamia said.

However, the negotiator added: "The bad sign, I think, is there was no single word about a call for Russian troops to go back." And with the invasion now entering its second year, more deaths and destruction are expected.

Even if Russia wins the Battle for Bakhmut, Moscow has little to celebrate. The eastern Ukrainian city has been mostly reduced to rubble during the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion, and much more fighting awaits exhausted troops on both sides.

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06 March 2023, 16:50