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Kyiv and Moscow say compromise deal to end war possible.

Ukraine and Russia have said a compromise might be found to end a war that has killed thousands of people and displaced millions, even as the Kremlin insisted that its invasion was on track and its forces continued their deadly bombardment of Ukrainian towns and cities.

Officials in Ukraine’s besieged southeastern port of Mariupol accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a drama theatre where they said hundreds of people had been sheltering. Hours earlier, Russian forces allegedly killed 10 civilians queuing for bread in the city of Chernihiv and continued to shell residential districts of the country’s two main cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Russian officials who demand that Ukraine abandon its hopes of joining Nato said that neutral status for the country and limits on its armed forces were under discussion, but Kyiv insisted it would not give up its own key demands.

“Our position at the negotiations is quite specific – legally verified security guarantees; ceasefire; withdrawal of Russian troops. This is possible only with direct dialogue between the heads of Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine’s chief negotiator in the talks with Moscow.

‘Security guarantees’

Ukraine wants “absolute security guarantees . . . which means the signatories of the guarantees do not stand aside in the event of an attack on Ukraine, as they do now. But instead, they play an active part in the conflict on the side of Ukraine and officially provide an immediate supply of the requisite amount of weaponry,” he explained.

As Nato again rejected Ukraine’s request for a no-fly zone in its airspace, Mr Podolyak said any deal must include “direct and firm guarantees that the sky will be ‘closed’” by its security partners in the event of attack.

Even as Russia’s losses mounted in Ukraine and its forces continued to be bogged down outside major cities, its president, Vladimir Putin, insisted that his invasion was “going to plan”, three weeks after he sent tens of thousands of troops across the border.

“The question of principle for our country and its future – the neutral status of Ukraine, its demilitarisation and its denazification – we were ready and we are ready to discuss as part of negotiations,” he said in an address from the Kremlin.

‘Scum and traitors’

He depicted his war against Ukraine – a democracy of 41 million people – as an operation to prevent it being used by a hostile West to attack Russia and “to turn us into a weak, dependent country”.

Mr Putin described domestic pro-western opponents of his regime as “scum and traitors” and said they would never be accepted by most Russians: “I am convinced that this natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country.”

In an address to the US Congress, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy compared Russia’s invasion to the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbour and the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, and he evoked Martin Luther King jnr’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech.

“I have a need . . . I need to protect our sky,” he said.

Nato again rejected his call to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine – which it says could spark a war between the West and Russia – but US president Joe Biden unveiled an $800 million (€725 million) arms package for Kyiv that includes anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles.

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