Ukraine called Wednesday for urgent negotiations with Russia in Mariupol, which appeared close to falling after weeks of siege, as Vladimir Putin flexed his military muscle with the test launch of a new, nuclear capable ICBM.
Washington downplayed the test of the intercontinental ballistic missile and said it had been notified in advance, but Putin said it would make the Kremlin s enemies “think twice”, raising tensions nearly two months after he invaded Ukraine and ignited a global crisis.
Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, has been under a horrific siege almost since the invasion began. On Wednesday, Moscow issued another call for the devastated city s defenders to surrender.
But Kyiv proposed a “special round” of talks with Moscow, without any conditions, in Mariupol itself.
“One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours,” wrote top Ukraine negotiator and presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter.
He tweeted after a Ukrainian commander in the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol issued a desperate plea for help, saying his marines were “maybe facing our last days, if not hours”.
“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one,” said Serhiy Volyna from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade.
“We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state.”
An adviser to the city s mayor described a “horrible situation” in the encircled steel plant and reported that up to 2,000 people — mostly women and children — are without supplies of drinking water, food and fresh air.
“Powerful bombs have been dropped several times on Azovstal, we have been bombed from boats… we are under siege. The front is 360 degrees,” said Svyatoslav Palamar, a commander in the nationalist Azov battalion defending the city, in a post on Telegram.
“The situation is critical, we call on international leaders to help the children,” he added.
Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet state on February 24.
Capturing it would allow Russia to have a land bridge between the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and the two Moscow-backed separatist statelets in Ukraine s east.
The offer of talks came after Kyiv said it had agreed with Russian forces to open a safe route for civilians to flee the devastated city — but that the had attempt failed.