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6 months into the war in Ukraine, diplomats haven't made much headway on peace talks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Biden administration is giving Ukraine another $3 billion in military aid to defend itself from Russia. The announcement comes six months into a brutal war and as diplomats struggle to get any traction for peace talks. There was more hand-wringing about that in the U.N. Security Council today, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has had one small victory in his diplomatic efforts. Ukrainian ships have begun to export much-needed grain as Russia eases up on its blockade. Guterres told the Security Council about his recent visit to a Ukrainian port.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: Even if in a limited way, the storied port of Odesa, which had been paralyzed for months, is slowly coming to life thanks to the initiative.

KELEMEN: Guterres says that might help reduce food prices around the world, but what's most important for Ukrainians is an end to this war.

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GUTERRES: The people of Ukraine and beyond need peace, and they need peace now. It's in line with U.N. Charter. It's in line with international law.

KELEMEN: On that front, there's been little movement for months now. U.N. officials are raising concerns about Russia's treatment of prisoners of war and are trying to defuse tensions around a Ukrainian nuclear power plant seized by Russia. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield warns that Russia is also moving ahead with plans to annex parts of Ukraine, which she says should not be tolerated.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Russia's goal is as clear as ever - to dismantle Ukraine as a geopolitical entity and erase it from the world map.

KELEMEN: The big question for diplomats is whether there's any negotiated way out.

TRINE HEIMERBACK: I think that's the question we all have. Right now, I don't think we are too optimistic, unfortunately.

KELEMEN: Norwegian Ambassador Trine Heimerback says she hopes the U.N. can build on the grain deal. Her British counterpart, James Kariuki, says the onus is on Russia.

JAMES KARIUKI: Yeah, there's been a lot of diplomacy. The question from - about peace negotiations is for the Ukrainians. But the best way to end the conflict would be for Russia to withdraw its troops and end its illegal occupation.

KELEMEN: Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently warned that there will be no further talks with Russia if it carries out show trials of Ukrainian POWs.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KELEMEN: "Russia will cut itself off from the negotiations," he says. "There will be no more conversations. Our country has made that clear."

Today, in a video message to the Security Council, Zelenskyy said Russia must be held to account for its abuses in Ukraine. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya tried unsuccessfully to prevent Zelenskyy from addressing the U.N. Asked about diplomacy, he said Russia wants to meet its goals first.

VASILY NEBENZYA: I would like to see all aims and targets of the military operation that had been set by the Russian leadership implemented. We have the negotiated solution that would end the conflict but provided and on the conditions that the goals that were set are implemented.

KELEMEN: African and Latin American members of the Security Council lamented the lack of real diplomacy. Kenya's Ambassador Martin Kimani put it in stark terms.

MARTIN KIMANI: Unless the Ukraine war is stopped through dialogue and negotiation, it could be the first of a series of conflicts that future historians will name the Third World War. Africa and the rest of the world would be thrown into a mirror of the Cold War.

KELEMEN: He's calling for a cessation of hostilities and respect for Ukraine sovereignty. U.S. officials say they've seen no sign that Russia is interested in that. So for now, the U.S. is focused on strengthening Ukraine's hand with a new influx of $3 billion in security assistance.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.