US to provide Ukraine with military assistance

Switzerland has advised its citizens to leave Russia. * Finnish president tells Putin immediate ceasefire needed in Ukraine

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.  (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

The US said it is willing to take diplomatic steps that the Ukrainian government would find helpful,  said a State Department spokesperson on Saturday afternoon after President Volodymyr Zelensky said the West should be more involved in negotiations to end the war.

Following the statement, New US assistance for Ukraine was authorized by President Joe Biden on Saturday and will provide immediate military assistance, including anti-armor, anti-aircraft systems, and small arms, a senior administration official said.

Moscow has said little about Bennett's mediation efforts. It has issued terms including that Ukraine recognizes Crimea as Russian and Russian-backed breakaway areas as independent. Kyiv says it will not cede any territory.

One official briefed on the mediation, and who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, envisaged a potential situation where the warring countries "put it (the recognition issue) on the side, perhaps for 10 or 15 years."

As a possible precedent, the official cited the Soviet-Japanese peace pact of 1956 that left the status of disputed islands unresolved. It was not immediately clear if the remarks reflected wider thinking in Kyiv or Moscow.

The crisis diplomacy, coordinated with the United States, Germany and France, has been a high-wire act for Bennett.

He has left it to his foreign minister to condemn the Russian invasion in Israel's name. That, said another official, was meant to keep Putin's door open to the Israeli prime minister.

"Power in Russia is pooled entirely around this one man. It's highly personal. Israel has managed relations with Russia through leader-to-leader contacts, and that requires avoiding soundbites that might stir up ill will," the official said.

Citing the time that Putin and Zelenskiy have invested in speaking to - and through - Bennett, a senior official in Israel's Foreign Ministry, Simona Halperin, said in a radio interview on Thursday the mediation efforts "certainly, certainly have a chance of succeeding."

France and Germany call for peace

Meanwhile, on the Russian side, President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about the state of negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv and responded to their concerns about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine during a three-way phone call on Saturday, the Kremlin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not show a willingness to end a war with Ukraine during a call on Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a French presidency official said.

The French and German leaders reiterated their call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine as a condition for full negotiations, the official said

Finland and Russia speak

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the need for ceasefire and humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians in Ukraine in a phone call on Friday, the Finnish president's office said in a statement.

In the call, which lasted for one hour, Niinisto told Putin the worsening crisis in Ukraine was strongly impacting Western opinion.

"President Niinisto emphasized the need to establish an immediate ceasefire and ensure the safe evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors," the statement read.

Niinisto earlier in the day also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss Russia's invasion, and the Finnish president later tweeted that he was "doing my best for peace."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday there had been some progress in Moscow's talks with Ukraine, but provided no details.

"There are certain positive shifts, negotiators on our side tell me," Putin said in a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, adding that talks continued "practically on a daily basis."

Putin did not elaborate, but said in the televised remarks that he would go into more detail with Lukashenko.

Swiss says leave

Switzerland has advised its citizens to leave Russia, the foreign ministry said in a travel advisory on its website on Friday.

"The (foreign ministry) recommends that Swiss nationals whose presence in Russia is not urgently required leave the country temporarily and by their own means. The decision to leave the country is an individual decision," it said.