Putin defends Ukraine invasion in meeting with UN chief

Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a defiant tone in a televised meeting with António Guterres Tuesday, showing little interest in the UN secretary-general’s proposal for a UN role in helping civilians flee the war in Ukraine.

The big picture: Guterres said that while “we believe that there was an invasion into the territory of Ukraine,” he “arrived in Moscow with a pragmatic approach.” Guterres, who will visit Kyiv later this week, said his “main task” was to improve the humanitarian situation.

  • An adviser to Zelensky said Sunday that Guterres’ trip to Moscow was “not a good idea,” because Putin had shown no interest in serious peace talks.

Setting the scene: The long table Putin famously used when hosting a string of world leaders prior to the invasion was back Tuesday, meaning the two faced each other from a distance.

What they’re saying: Putin praised the UN as an institution but criticized the actions its members had taken to challenge Russia. He then spent several minutes laying out his own narrative about the events that led to Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.

  • He said he still hoped there would be a “diplomatic outcome” in Ukraine, and claimed genuine breakthroughs in the negotiations had been derailed by what he described as a “provocation” in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where dozens of Ukrainian civilians were killed. Contrary to accounts from witnesses and reporters, Putin suggested the Ukrainians themselves carried out the massacre.

Guterres noted that attempts to establish humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians had largely failed.

  • Ukraine says Russia has bombed those corridors, and used its own evacuation routes to bring Ukrainian civilians to Russia against their will.
  • Guterres said that it would not work for Ukraine and Russia to operate separate corridors, and that a “humanitarian contact group” was needed – with representation from the UN, Ukraine, and Russia – “so no one will have an excuse to sabotage those corridors . “
  • Guterres focused particularly on Mariupol. He said the UN hoped to work with the Red Cross to get civilians out, including from the besieged steel plant in the city.

Putin interjected to turn Guterres’ attention to Kosovo, in an attempt to provide a legal justification for Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region.

  • Noting that Kosovo had declared independence in 2008 without consulting Serbia, Putin asked Guterres whether he agreed that provided a precedent for the two Donbas “republics” to declare independence without permission from Kyiv, and for Moscow to recognize them (as many western countries recognized Kosovo ).
  • Guterres noted that the UN did not recognize Kosovo, but Putin brushed that aside and turned back to Mariupol.
  • He said military operations there had ended and denied that humanitarian corridors were not functioning (Ukraine says Russia is continuing to conduct strikes in Mariupol and refusing to let civilians leave the city). He also accused Ukrainian forces inside the steel plant of using civilians as “human shields.”

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