Russian President Vladimir Putin has told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that problems with the evacuation of citizens are being caused by Ukrainian far-right radicals. The hour-long call on Friday, the 4th March was initiated by the German side, the Kremlin press service said.
Scholz “called on the Russian leadership to immediately cease all hostilities and to allow humanitarian access to the embattled areas,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said. Putin claimed, however, that the humanitarian issues and problems with the evacuation of civilians primarily stem from the actions of Ukrainian radicals.
“It was emphasised that the main threat is posed by neo-Nazi military units that are committing numerous war crimes,” the Kremlin statement reads, adding that the groups are “using terrorist methods by deploying strike weapons in residential areas and cynically using civilians as cover.”
Putin also reminded Scholz of the conflict in Ukraine’s east, where the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk have been battling Kiev forces for about eight years. Some 14,000 people perished in that conflict, Putin stressed, describing it as a “genocide” and complaining to Scholz that the West has been “turning a blind eye” to Kiev’s actions during these years.
Ukrainian paramilitaries have been using civilians, both Ukrainian nationals and foreigners alike, as human shields during Russia’s offensive, Putin said. More than 6,000 foreign nationals remain trapped in the country, with the Ukrainian side preventing them from exiting the combat zones, he said, stressing that the Russian military are “doing all they can to protect civilian lives.”
Russia’s president also dismissed media reports of alleged shellings of Ukrainian cities by the country’s military as “crudely fabricated propaganda.”
Allegations of indiscriminate bombings have been made by some officials, with top EU diplomat Josep Borrell, for instance, accusing Moscow of bombing and shelling “everything” in the country, including hospitals, houses, and schools. Moscow, however, maintains that it is strictly targeting military infrastructure.
The fighting broke out in Ukraine last week, when Moscow launched a large-scale military offensive against the country. Putin said the military attack was the only option left to protect the Donetsk and Lugansk republics in the east from Kiev’s aggression. He outlined the goals of the offensive as the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine.
Kiev says the attack was “unprovoked” and insists it was not seeking to recapture the republics. Donetsk and Lugansk rebelled against Ukraine back in 2014 in the aftermath of the Maidan turmoil. The coup ousted Ukraine’s democratically-elected government, with the new authorities launching a military operation to quell the breakaway region.