Russia halts strikes for evacuations but battles continue


Kiev: Russia announced yet another limited cease-fire and the establishment of safe corridors to allow civilians to flee some besieged Ukrainian cities Monday. But the evacuation routes led mostly to Russia and its ally Belarus, drawing withering criticism from Ukraine and others.

Ukrainian officials accused Moscow of resorting to medieval siege tactics in places, and in one of the most desperate of the encircled cities, the southern port of Mariupol, there were no immediate signs of an evacuation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces continued to pummel some cities with rockets even after the announcement of corridors, and fierce fighting raged in places, indicating there would be no wider cessation of hostilities.

While most of the world is shunning President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the few leaders keeping an open line of communication is French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron’s diplomatic efforts to prevent the war failed, but he’s not giving up: the two men have spoken four times since Russian forces attacked Ukraine on February 24, and 11 times over the past month.

The French leader, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, is now one of the few outsiders with a view into Putin’s mindset at the time of the largest military invasion in Europe since World War II.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is also becoming a mediator, meeting Putin on a surprise visit to Moscow on Saturday and speaking with him again by phone on Sunday.

Macron’s relentless push for dialogue reflects France’s post-World War II tradition of carving out its own geopolitical path and its refusal to blindly follow the United States.

After Russian troops pushed deep into Ukraine, Macron’s resolve to maintain communication channels with Putin is providing Western allies with insight into the Russian leader’s state of mind, his intentions on the battlefield and at home in Russia as the Kremlin cracks down on opponents.

He is keeping a diplomatic channel open for the West in case Putin might want to de-escalate and look for a way out of this crisis, said Benjamin Haddad, a senior director for Europe at the Atlantic Council in Paris and a member of Macron’s party.