- French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says Russia is disingenuous in its negotiations with Ukraine.
- Russia proposed Ukraine should become a neutral country like Sweden or Austria.
- Global sanctions against Russia continue to intensify.
Russia is pretending to negotiate with Ukraine while pursuing the invasion of its neighbour in line with a brutal strategy it has used elsewhere, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.
"Unfortunately we're still facing the same Russian logic - making maximalist demands, wanting Ukraine to surrender, and intensifying siege warfare," Le Drian told the newspaper, Le Parisien.
Ukraine, by contrast, "is engaging in the talks responsibly and with an open mind", he added.
The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday rubbished the Kremlin's proposal for its neighbour to become a neutral country like Sweden or Austria, saying Kyiv would need ironclad guarantees of its security.
Its chief negotiator, Mikhailo Podolyak, tweeted that a 15-point draft peace plan published by the Financial Times "represents the requesting position of the Russian side. Nothing more. The Ukrainian side has its positions."
On the ground, the Ukrainians have accused the Russians of indiscriminate aerial bombing and artillery shelling.
Blasts hit a theatre in the besieged city of Mariupol overnight. More than 1 000 civilians were thought to be sheltering inside. Details of any casualties are still unknown.
And while residents have been able to escape shell-blasted cities via humanitarian corridors in some cases, many other attempts have failed.
Le Drian said that European aid to Ukraine, including weapons deliveries, would not be deterred by Russian leader Vladimir Putin's threats to strike the convoys or his nuclear sabre-rattling.
"Rhetorical escalation on nuclear matters is a habit of President Putin's," he told Le Parisien, condemning the brandishing of Russia's strategic forces "disproportionate and irresponsible".
For now, "there is one urgent matter - ceasefire, ceasefire, ceasefire", Le Drian said.
"Russia refuses that for now.
"So the sanctions will be intensified in a determined way until Putin realises that the price for continuing the conflict will be so high that a ceasefire is preferable and starts real talks with President Zelensky."
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