July 20 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Moscow did not see any desire from Ukraine to fulfil the terms of what he described as a preliminary peace deal agreed to in March.
Putin, speaking to reporters in televised comments after a visit to Iran, said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were offering to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, which Moscow’s forces invaded in late February.
There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian government to Putin’s remarks in the early hours of Wednesday.
Putin, asked about a possible meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Kyiv had not stuck to the terms of a preliminary peace deal he said had been “practically achieved” in March, without elaborating.
“The final result of course… depends on the willingness of the contracting parties to implement the agreements that were reached. Today we see the powers in Kyiv have no such desire.”
Negotiations took place in March, with both sides making proposals but without a breakthrough. At the time, Zelenskiy said only a concrete result from the talks could be trusted.
Putin met Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Tuesday, deepening ties between the two countries who are both under Western sanctions.
During the visit to Iran, Putin also met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss a deal that would resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports, now blockaded by Russia.
Russia was ready to facilitate Ukrainian grain exports by the Black Sea, but also wanted the remaining curbs on Russian grain exports to be removed, said Putin, who was shown by Rossiya state TV answering questions from media at the end of his visit to Iran.
On Tuesday the Russian leader had said not all the issues had been resolved yet on grain shipments, “but the fact that there is movement is already good.”
It was Putin’s first in-person meeting with a NATO leader since Russian troops invaded and was a pointed message to the West about Russian plans to forge closer strategic ties with Iran, China and India to help offset Western sanctions imposed over the invasion.
The trip shows how isolated Russia has become, said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.
Kirby also said the United States was preparing to unveil another weapons package for Ukraine. Citing U.S. intelligence, he accused Russia of laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory, which the Russian embassy denied.
The Kremlin has said there is no time limit to a conflict it calls a “special military operation” to ensure its own security. Ukraine and the West condemn it as an unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbour.
Russia was trying to “drag” Ukraine into a protracted conflict into the winter, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said in a magazine interview published on Tuesday.
“It is very important for us not to enter the winter. After winter, when the Russians will have more time to dig in, it will certainly be more difficult” for any Ukrainian counter-offensive, Yermak said.
Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region continues to make minimal gains as Ukrainian forces hold the line, British military intelligence said on Wednesday.
More than two weeks have passed since Russia’s last major territorial gain – capturing the city of Lysychansk in the Donbas.
Ukraine’s general staff reported widespread shelling and attacks in various areas of the country.
“In the Bakhmut direction, the occupiers are conducting combat operations with the aim of creating conditions for an offensive on the city of Bakhmut and taking over the territory of the Vuglegirsk power plant,” the general staff said.
“There is a shortage of ammunition, food and water in the enemy units,” it added, without elaborating.
Five civilians had been killed and 16 had been wounded by Russian forces in the Donetsk region, while two civilians had been killed by shelling in the city of Nikopol in the south, the respective regional governors said on Telegram.
Reuters could not immediately verify the Ukrainian accounts.
At least one person was killed in a Russian missile strike on the centre of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, authorities said.
“I felt a really powerful explosion and I understood it was somewhere here,” said Valentina, 70-year-old local resident whose son-in-law, Maksym, was critically injured in the attack.
“I called my daughter and she says that Maksym is not picking up the phone. He must have been knocked off then,” she cried.
As the war drags on, concerns that Russia may halt supplies of natural gas to Europe have risen.
In response, the European Union is considering a voluntary 15% cut in natural gas use by its member states beginning next month, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing EU diplomats.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; writing by Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Michael Perry)