By Matthias Williams
LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Sunday Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear forces on high alert was calculated to put pressure at the start of talks but that Kyiv would not be cowed.
Speaking at a briefing, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also said Russia had dropped its preconditions for talks after suffering military setbacks. Ukraine would listen to what Russia had to say, he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday Russia had agreed to talks at a venue on the Belarusian border near the Pripyat River, the first since Russia invaded its neighbour last week.
It was not immediately clear who would represent both sides at the talks. Ukrainian media said Ukraine was sending Kuleba’s deputy to the meeting, the exact location and timing of which was not disclosed.
“We see this announcement, this order, as an attempt to raise the stakes and to put additional pressure on the Ukrainian delegation. But we will not give in to this pressure,” Kuleba said.
Russia attacked Ukraine from three sides last week, shelling cities mainly in the south, east and north of the country and advancing on the capital Kyiv.
Ukraine says Russia has already suffered thousands of losses, though the toll could not be independently verified and Russia has not released its own figures.
“I would like to remind you that just a couple of days ago when the war started, Russia was not interested in any talks at all. After they suffered losses … and the Blitzkrieg failed, Russia started speaking with the language of ultimatums,” Kuleba said.
“As Russia continued to suffer, as the Russian army experienced one defeat after another, the demands, the preconditions, the ultimatums by Russia were put aside, and now they conveyed a message to us that they just want to talk.”
Kuleba said Ukraine would not yield an inch of territory.
The talks were made possible after Zelenskiy held a phone call with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Zelenskiy said.
Lukashenko had undertaken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on Belarusian territory remained on the ground during the trip, he said.
Belarus has been an intermediary for previous negotiations between Ukraine and Russia since 2014 but Ukraine said it refused to hold new talks on Belarusian soil after Belarus became one of the staging grounds for the invasion.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Angus MacSwan)