In an 80-minute joint phone call on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been urged by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accept a direct exchange with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and to release the 2,500 Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant detained by Russian forces, the Elysee palace said.
According to statements coming from Russia this month, almost 2,000 Ukrainians had surrendered in the ruins of Mariupol, in the bunkers and tunnels beneath the vast steelworks, where they had held out for weeks.
The palace said that Macron and Scholz have also insisted on the urgency of lifting the Russian blockade of Odesa port to allow exports of the Ukrainian grain, something that Russia, according to the Kremlin is willing to discuss.
Condemning the West for flooding Ukraine with weapons, Putin has allegedly assured the Europeans that Moscow remains ready to negotiate an end to the ongoing conflict, blaming Kyiv for freezing the peace talks.
The Russian president confirmed that Moscow is also ready to export fertilizer and other agricultural products – which would require the lifting of some Western-imposed sanctions – and to ensure grain export from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea which, according to Moscow, had been impossible up until now due to Ukraine’s mining of the sea.
Also, the Russian Navy has opened two corridors – one in the Black Sea and another through the Azov Sea – for civilian vessels.
In what it called a special operation to demilitarize and denazify its southern neighbor, Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and Putin has allegedly outlined its latest developments during the phone call and described the return of normal life to Mariupol and other cities that were recently retaken from Ukrainian forces.