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Yo-Yo Ma plays Mozart with Afghan refugees in Portugal

Celebrated U.S. cellist Yo-Yo Ma has joined refugees from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in the Portuguese capital Lisbon for a performance of Mozart’s Eine kleine NachtmusikBy HELENA ALVES Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 4:30 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — Celebrated U.S. cellist Yo-Yo Ma joined refugees from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in the Portuguese capital Lisbon on Tuesday for a performance of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.Ma joined young Afghan and Portuguese musicians on a small stage at the National Conservatory, where the refugees who arrived last December are studying.“The best defense against anything is culture,” Ma told the Lisbon audience of dozens of people in a speech.“They risked their lives for something they believed in and you, in Lisbon, opened your hearts and risked … all kinds of things in order to do what is human,” he said.Portugal granted asylum to a 273-person group, including some 150 students, from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music as they fled Afghanistan in the wake of a Taliban takeover last August. Ma had a hand in helping them get out of Afghanistan.The Taliban seized power when the U.S. and NATO ended their 20-year military presence.Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition, and a pop music scene had flourished there over the past two decades. But many musicians feared for their futures under the Taliban, which rules according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.“The process of integration of our community is going very smoothly here,” Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and head of Afghanistan National Institute of Music, said.“The students are enrolled back in the school, they are going to the Conservatory, they are making music, they joined several ensembles and orchestras, they are slowly also beginning to make a wonderful musical impact on their community,” he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the performance.Ma and Sarmast exchanged high-fives with the students, some of whom also played traditional instruments of Afghanistan, after the Mozart recital.Marzia Anwari, a teenage musician from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, said Ma was approachable and put her at ease.“He is very, very nice,” she said. “I’m so happy right now.”The plan is to recreate the institute in Portugal, allowing the students to continue their education, as part of a wider Lisbon-based center for Afghan culture that will welcome exiles.

Orthodox patriarch denounces 'atrocious invasion' of Ukraine

The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an “atrocious” act that is causing enormous sufferingBy VANESSA GERA Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 4:27 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWARSAW, Poland — The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians on Tuesday denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an “atrocious” act that is causing enormous suffering.Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I didn’t mention Russia by name in comments made during a visit to Warsaw after meeting with Ukrainian refugees. Poland has accepted the largest number of people fleeing the war in Ukraine.“It is simply impossible to imagine how much devastation this atrocious invasion has caused for the Ukrainian people and the entire world,” Bartholomew said at a news briefing. He added that solidarity with Ukrainians “is the only thing that can overcome evil and darkness in the world.”Bartholomew also met with Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, who went even further in his denunciation of Russian actions, which he said bore “the hallmarks of genocide.” Unlike Bartholomew, Gądecki mentioned Russia by name.Gądecki said Russia’s invasion has resulted in the deaths of “thousands of innocent people” including “hundreds of children, elderly people, women, and men who had nothing to do with the hostilities.”“Many of the aggressor’s actions bear the hallmarks of genocide,” Gądecki said.The Polish church leader earlier this month urged the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand an end to the war and for Russian soldiers to stand down — going further than Pope Francis in his public statements to date.Istanbul-based Bartholomew is considered “first among equals” among Orthodox patriarchs. Although the titular head of the Orthodox Church worldwide, other Orthodox leaders — including Kirill — are able to wield more power from their base in countries with larger Orthodox populations.Ukraine’s population is mostly Orthodox Christian, but is divided between an independent church based in Kyiv and another one loyal to Kirill in Moscow.Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church severed contact with Bartholomew after the Istanbul patriarch recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as independent of the Moscow patriarch in 2019.Even though Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in part as a defense of the Moscow-oriented Orthodox church, leaders of both Ukrainian Orthodox factions have fiercely condemned the Russian invasion, as has Ukraine’s significant Catholic minority.Bartholomew said it was hard to find words to describe the suffering of the Ukrainians he met in Poland and referred to scripture instead, quoting prophet Jeremiah: “If my head was a spring of water, and if my eyes were a fountain of tears, I would weep all day and night for the slaying of my people.”————Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub.russia-ukraine

Spain, Portugal emerge as 'energy island' in Europe's crisis

BARCELONA, Spain — Amid the mayhem provoked in the world energy market by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Spain and Portugal have emerged in a strategically advantageous position as an “energy island” in Europe, with a relatively low reliance on Russian natural gas.Leaders in renewable energy thanks to solar, wind and hydraulic power, Spain and Portugal are now poised to reap the benefits of long-term investments in liquefied natural gas, or LNG.With six LNG plants in Spain — including Europe’s largest, in Barcelona — and one in Portugal, the Iberian neighbors account for one-third of Europe’s LNG processing capacity. The port-based terminals turn boatloads of supercooled LNG back into gas that then flows into homes and businesses.“Clearly, this infrastructure gives us more flexibility and strengthens our gas distribution system in comparison to those of other European countries that depend on pipelines,” said Claudio Rodríguez, spokesman for Enagás, the company that runs Spain’s natural gas network.He spoke Tuesday during a rare tour of the huge cylindrical deposits at the LNG plant in Barcelona’s port.Spain and Portugal are set to receive more gas imports, along with the rest of Europe, after the United States announced last week that it would help its allies reduce their dependence on Russian gas.The U.S. said it will boost LNG exports to Europe by 15 billion cubic meters this year, with even larger shipments coming in the future. The U.S. already surpassed Algeria as Spain’s leading source of natural gas at the start of the year.Spain appeared to be in a vulnerable position last year after Algeria shut down a gas pipeline that runs through Morocco amid a spat with its fellow North African country. Spain deployed diplomats to secure guarantees from Algeria that it would ship LNG. Now, Russia’s war in Ukraine has put Spain in an envious position.The war has turned Europe’s dependence on Russian gas into a critical strategic liability. In a rush to find alternatives, European Union leaders want to accelerate mid- to long-term goals to shift further into renewable energy, while finding alternative sources of natural gas in the meantime. Russia has kept the gas flowing for now but has turned off the taps in the past during spats with Ukraine and Belarus.The crisis also has shown that the EU, despite being a common market for 27 nations, has major internal bottlenecks in its energy distribution system.There are scant energy connections between Spain and Portugal and rest of Europe. That is behind an unprecedented shift in EU policy last week when the Iberian countries were allowed to propose their own price control mechanisms to tackle soaring energy costs across the continent.Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Portuguese counterpart, António Costa, successfully argued that the relative isolation of their countries from the rest of the EU market, forming what Sánchez’s government calls an “energy island,” and their high use of renewables meant that they should be temporarily released from the common market rules.The LNG arriving to Spain could in theory be sent on to needier neighbors further east, but there’s no easy way to get it there. Spain and France share two small gas pipelines that can transport the equivalent of seven boatloads of LNG each month, while Spain received 27 boatloads at its terminals in March, in addition to natural gas pumped through an Algerian pipeline, according to Enagas.There is talk in Madrid and Brussels about reviving a plan to build a larger pipeline for gas and green hydrogen energy to cross the Pyrenees, but even if that gets funding, it would take several years to start working. And there would still need to be more work in France to help get the gas to where it’s really needed.In the meantime, Rodríguez said Spain’s LNG terminals could be used to send along ships of LNG to other European ports to “reinforce Europe’s gas and energy systems.”Experts agree, however, that if Europe wants energy autonomy, it must strengthen its connections.“Spain is part of the solution, but, unfortunately, it is limited in what it can do,” said Gonzalo Escribano, energy and climate analyst of Spain’s Elcano Institute think tank.“For years, Spain has been issuing warnings to other member states on their dependence on Russia … (now) we want to turn off the Russian tap, and, dear sirs, we can’t.”———AP writer Aritz Parra contributed from Madrid.———Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

Qatar to invest $5 billion in Egypt as ties improve

Officials say Qatar will invest $5 billion in Egypt signaling increasing improvement in ties between the two nationsBy SAMY MAGDY Associated PressMarch 29, 2022, 4:13 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCAIRO — Qatar will invest $5 billion in Egypt, officials said Tuesday, signaling increasing improvement in ties between the two nations.The announcement came as Qatar Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani wrapped up a visit to the Egyptian capital of Cairo, where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and other government officials.An Egyptian statement said the $5 billion package is meant to “strengthen economic and investment cooperation between the two brotherly countries.”The statement didn’t provide further details, including a timeframe for the investments. Qatar’s state-run news agency also reported the development.Egypt’s economy is under pressure amid an inflationary wave triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, which hiked oil prices to record highs.The war has also impacted the vital tourism sector, as most foreign visitors to the country’s Red Sea resorts have come from Russia and Ukraine. Egypt is also the world’s largest importer of wheat, most of it coming from Russia and Ukraine.Al Thani, who is also Qatar’s deputy prime minister, arrived in Egypt on Monday in his second visit since Egypt and three Gulf nations ended a diplomatic dispute with the energy-rich country last year. He was accompanied by Finance Minister Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari.El-Sissi, who met with the Qatari ministers Tuesday, hailed “the tangible progress in the course of Egyptian-Qatari relations,” according to the Egyptian leader’s office.The Qatari officials also met Tuesday with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Finance Minister Mohammed Moait. The prime minister’s office announced the investment agreement.Qatar’s previous investment in Egypt has focused on the real state and oil sectors, including the building of a $1.3 billion luxury hotel on Cairo’s Nile Corniche. Qatar Petroleum held a major stake in a $4.4 billion refining firm, according to the state-run Al-Ahram daily.In a joint news conference Monday with Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, Al Thani said Qatar’s ties with Egypt were improving “after we overcame the previous period, which was marred by some tensions.”A declaration in January 2021 ended a diplomatic crisis that began in 2017 with a rift between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on one side and Qatar on the other. The four countries had jointly boycotted Qatar and hoped an embargo and media blitz would pressure it to end its close relations with Turkey and Iran.Since the dispute ended, ties between the five countries have improved and top officials have exchanged visits. Al Thani visited Cairo in May and met with el-Sissi. The Egyptian leader also met twice with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani — once in November on the sidelines of the climate change summit in Glasgow and most recently in February when they attended the opening of the Olympic winter games in Beijing.

Putin outraged by Zelenskyy note delivered by Russian oligarch Ambramovich: 'Tell him I will thrash him'

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Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly rejected a note from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seeking peace in the more than a month-long conflict. When the note was hand-delivered to him by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Putin reportedly replied instead: “Tell him I will thrash them.” The Times of London reported Monday that Abramovich, a close ally of Putin acting as Russia’s envoy to Ukrainian negotiators, last week met Putin in Moscow and presented him with a handwritten note from Zelenskyy outlining the conditions he would consider in order to reach a cease-fire agreement. Though the newspaper did not disclose the exact contents of the alleged note, The Times said Putin’s response was unequivocally clear: “Tell him I will thrash them.” Fox News has not verified the report. RUSSIA, UKRAINE NEGOTIATORS HOLD IN-PERSON TALKS IN TURKEY AS MOSCOW SAYS IT WILL PULL BACK FROM KYIV, CHERNIHIV Abramovich, who along with two top Ukrainian diplomats reportedly suffered a suspected poisoning in Kyiv earlier this month, was present in person Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey, where another round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations happened for the first time in nearly three weeks. His exact role in the talks was unclear, as the Kremlin has stressed Abramovich is not an official member of the delegation in Istanbul but has been serving as a go-between for the Russian and Ukrainian sides. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, was critical of Abramovich’s presence at the talks hosted at the Dolmabahce Palace, commenting to the BBC on Tuesday, “I don’t know if he’s buying his way out somehow or if he’s really useful, that’s very difficult to tell.”The Wall Street Journal and Netherlands-based investigative group, Bellingcat, both reported about the suspected poisoning on Monday, saying Abramovich, Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov and another negotiator had all experienced symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands following a March 3 meeting in Kyiv. The reports said the conditions of the three men have since improved and their lives weren’t in danger. But contacted by Fox News, a spokesman for Zelenskyy’s office denied reports about the poisoning, as did Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told Russian media the reports were false and part of an “information war.” Umerov tweeted, “I’m fine,” Monday, warning not to trust “unverified information.”  Still, BBC reported that Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said on Ukrainian TV hours before Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul that he advised colleagues not to eat or drink anything. The Russian government has previously been accused of poisoning perceived dissenters. The Kremlin has been tied to the 2020 nerve agent attack on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Siberia, the 2018 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer who defected to the U.K., and his daughter Yulia, and the 2004 poisoning of pro-Western Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who was left permanently disfigured following the attack. 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes the Russian and Ukrainian delegations ahead of their talks, in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
(Turkish Presidency via AP)Speaking at a press conference in Morocco Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there’s “concern” of reports about the poisoning due to Russia’s “track record” with Navalny and others. Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, has been sanctioned by the U.K. and the European Union, but the Journal previously reported that Zelenskyy asked the U.S. not to sanction Abramovich due to his role in facilitating talks and his growing interest in humanitarian issues, including potentially organizing civilian evacuations from the besieged Mariupol, so the U.S. Treasury paused plans to do so. Russian state-run news agency Ria Novosti published a photo Tuesday showing Abramovich speaking with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the meeting. CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPThe BBC noted that Abramovich, who also holds Israeli and Portuguese citizenship and owns a minority stake in the steel company Evraz PLC, was seen on Turkish television coverage of the talks listening to a translation through headphones while sitting next to Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin at a separate table from the main delegations on Tuesday. As talks were underway Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters in Moscow that his country has agreed to “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine,” according to the Financial Times. The announcement did not signal any relief, however, for the besieged cities of Odesa or Mariupol, which have suffered heavy Russian bombardment. 

Russia, Ukraine negotiators hold talks in Turkey as Moscow says it will pull back from Kyiv, Chernihiv

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The first face-to-face talks in nearly three weeks between members of the Ukraine and Russian delegations concluded Wednesday in Istanbul, Turkey, as the war entering into a 34th day has amounted to a ground operation of attrition, with several Ukrainian cities still facing heavy Russian bombardment.Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the meeting produced the most significant progress yet in the peace negotiations, according to Reuters.Russia’s deputy defense minister told reporters on Tuesday that Moscow has decided to “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine.” The Ukrainian government also recognized the withdrawal of certain units of armed forces of the Russian Federation from the territories of Kyiv and Chernihiv blasts, warning that “At the same time, there is a high risk of the Russian occupiers attacking military and civilian infrastructure.” RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATES Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed both sides as the meeting commenced, saying they have a “historic responsibility” to stop the “tragedy” happening in Ukraine. “We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Erdogan said, as he greeted the two delegations seated on opposite sides of a long table.
In this photo provided by Turkish Presidency, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, gives a speech to welcome the Russian, left, and Ukrainian delegations ahead of their talks, in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
(Turkish Presidency via AP)Ukrainian television said discussions at the palace in Istanbul began with a “cold welcome,” without the two sides exchanging handshakes, according to Reuters.RUSSIAN OLIGARCH, UKRAINE PEACEKEEPERS SUFFER SUSPECTED POISONING AFTER KYIV MEETING: REPORT Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country was prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and was open to compromise over the contested eastern region of Donbas. But he warned the “ruthless war” continued, and even the negotiators assembled, Russian forces hit an oil depot in western Ukraine and a government building in the south.Neither Zelenskyy nor Russian President Vladimir Putin were present for talks in Turkey Tuesday. In fighting that has devolved into a back-and-forth stalemate, Ukrainian forces retook Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Kyiv, Zelenskyy said late Monday in his nighttime video address to the nation. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to take the area back.Putin’s aim of a quick military victory has been thwarted by stiff Ukrainian resistance — but still hopes were not high for a breakthrough. Reflecting skepticism among Ukraine’s Western allies, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she thought the Russian president was “not serious about talks.”
Members of the Ukrainian delegation leave their hotel before the Russia-Ukraine talks start in Istanbul, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a cease-fire as the Russian and Ukrainian delegations resumed their talks in Istanbul. In a speech he delivered at the start of the talks on Tuesday, Erdogan said progress in the talks could pave the way for a meeting between the two countries’ leaders.
(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Tuesday that “intensive consultations are underway right now on some important issues, the most important of which is agreement on international security guarantees for Ukraine, because with this agreement we will be able to end the war as Ukraine needs,” according to Reuters.Speaking on national television about the talks in Turkey, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty.””The minimum program will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum program is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said, according to Reuters. Ukrainian Member of Parliament, David Arakhamia, reportedly met in Istanbul with the head of the Russian delegation and Putin’s aide, Vladimir Medinsky, ahead of the scheduled talks. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a longtime ally of Putin, was overseeing the talks in-person in Turkey, though his exact role remained unclear. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea Football Club owner who has been sanctioned by both the U.K. and the European Union, has been serving as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries — but mystery about his role has been deepened by reports Monday that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks in Kyiv. The investigative news outlet Bellingcat reported Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates – Crimean Tatar lawmaker Rustem Umerov and possibly Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov – suffered eye pain and skin irritation consistent with chemical weapons poisoning after talks in Kyiv on March 3. CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPThe British government said the allegations were “very concerning,” but Peskov said the reports “do not correspond to reality.” An advisor for Zelenskyy also denied the reports when contacted by Fox News. The Wall Street Journal, which also reported about the suspected poisoning, said Zelenskyy has asked President Biden not to issue U.S. sanctions against Abramovich because he had signaled openness to discussing humanitarian issues, specifically the evacuation of civilians from the besieged Mariupol. The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Russia to scale back military activity toward Kyiv, Chernihiv as part of peace talks: Putin defense official

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Russian defense officials announced Tuesday that Moscow will scale back military activity in two key areas as part of the ongoing peace negotiations. After nearly five weeks of fighting, Russia has decided to draw back its forces around the capital city of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said. “In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations…a decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv direction,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin was quoted as saying by a Russian state-owned media outlet.
A woman walks past a destroyed tank in the town of Trostsyanets, Ukraine, Monday, March 28, 2022. Trostsyanets was recently retaken by Ukrainian forces after being held by Russians since the early days of the war. 
(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATESRussian delegation member Vladimir Medinsky called the talks “productive” and said both Ukraine and Russia will discuss the negotiations with their corresponding presidents. The Kremlin said the news was an attempt to show good faith but comes after Russian ground troops have remained stalled across the country for weeks. Russia has been unable to make any progress in successfully advancing on Kyiv and senior U.S. defense officials first noted last week that Moscow may be looking to re-prioritize its strategy. “They are putting their priorities and their efforts in eastern Ukraine. And that’s where still there remains a lot of heavy fighting,” a senior defense official told reporters Friday.  “We think they are trying to not only secure some sort of more substantial gains there as a potential negotiating tactic at the table, but also to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country.”
A view of destroyed buildings and vehicles after Russian attacks on a shopping mall, in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 21, 2022. It is reported that, 8 people were killed in the Russian attack on shopping mall. 
(Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)RUSSIA ‘PRIORITIZING’ EASTERN UKRAINE AS GROUND FORCES REMAIN STALLED, REINFORCEMENTS COMING FROM GEORGIA: DODMoscow has increasingly relied on missile bombardment to target cities and has launched at least 1,370 missiles since the onslaught of the invasion.Ukrainians have not only held off Russian advancements into Kyiv, but have begun pushing them back from several key cities, including Kherson in the south and Kharkiv to the north. A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday that Ukrainians had recaptured town of Trostyanets’, located two hours northwest of Kharkiv. 
A police officer stands guard next to the Wreckage and debris outside a damaged shopping center in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv by Russian air strikes, amid Russian invasion, in Kyiv, Ukraine, 21 March 2022. Russian invasions have forced millions of Ukrainians to become refugees fleeing to other countries. 
(Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPDefense officials believe Russia will focus its military might in eastern Ukraine to potentially gain territory in the Donbas region where Russia-backed separatist groups have been fighting since 2014.The Russian delegation said Tuesday it is working on a “solution” to bring both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin together to agree to a peace treaty.