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Russia and Ukraine met in 1st negotiations since the invasion

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Russia and Ukraine held their first negotiations since the Kremlin launched an invasion of its neighbor last week. The two sides met for nearly five hours in Belarus near the Ukrainian border. NPR's Charles Maynes has been following this from Moscow and joins us. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: These are clearly high-stakes negotiations. Did anything come out of them?

MAYNES: Well, there weren't any breakthroughs to end the fighting. Clearly, Russia and Ukraine are far apart on the core issues, but they did agree to continue talking.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKHAIL PODOLYAK: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So that's Ukraine's lead negotiator, Mikhail Podolyak, saying both sides agreed to take proposals back to their country's leadership before reconvening in several days' time. Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin of Russia spoke on the phone today with French President Emmanuel Macron, and the two gave very different versions of what was discussed. Macron said he secured a promise from Putin not to attack civilian targets, but the Kremlin accused Ukrainian nationalists of using civilians as human shields and said a peace settlement was possible only if Ukraine met Russia's demands, which remain demilitarization and neutrality from NATO, among others.

SHAPIRO: We're also hearing about this avalanche of sanctions against Russia. You're in Moscow. Have you been able to see or feel the impact of them?

MAYNES: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: How is this playing out?

MAYNES: Yeah, Ari. You could really feel the bite of sanctions today just in the city. You know, the stock exchange closed early after steep losses. Some of Russia's largest foreign investors, BP and Shell Oil, said they were pulling out. And the currency, the ruble, lost 30% of its value today alone. You know, I was out in the city, and there were long lines at ATMs. People tried to get money out mainly out of fear of what might happen next. And in some conversations I had with Russians, there was real anger, only it wasn't directed at Vladimir Putin but at the U.S. This is Sergei Makarov, a retired police officer.

SERGEI MAKAROV: (Through interpreter) You in the U.S. keep pushing and pushing. What do you want from us? OK, we'll join NATO. We'll join the European Union. We're not opposed to being friends, but you don't want that. You want an enemy.

MAYNES: You know, Makarov stressed that Russians would never bend to Western sanctions. They'd prefer war to that.

SHAPIRO: But we're also hearing about protests and pushback. So is there any way to know how widespread that man's feeling is?

MAYNES: Well, no because public debate is so tightly controlled here. But today I stopped by Memorial - this is Russia's most well-known human rights organization - as it was holding an anti-war event with speeches and performances. Here's a bit of music from it.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

MAYNES: And so what was striking was that Memorial was holding this peace event really as a final bow. You know, Memorial was liquidated by a court order last December for allegedly violating the country's foreign agent laws. And today the group lost a final court appeal, so they're done.

IRINA SHCHERBAKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: And this is Irina Shcherbakova, a board member. She says she now sees the closure of Memorial and pressure against other independent voices over the past several months as an intentional clearing of the field, in her words. And so she says this was all done so there would be fewer voices left in Russia to protest the war.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Charles Maynes reporting from Moscow. Thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "FANSHAWE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.