Ukraine's foreign minister on Monday urged the UN chief to press Russia for an evacuation of the besieged port of Mariupol, calling it something the world body is capable of achieving.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Associated Press in an interview he was concerned that by visiting Moscow on Tuesday before travelling to Kyiv, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could be vulnerable to falling into a Kremlin "trap" in the war.
"Many other foreign officials were trapped visiting Moscow and played around just to show the supremacy of Russian diplomacy and how great they are and how they dictate the world how to behave," he said.
Guterres "should focus primarily on one issue: evacuation of Mariupol," Kuleba said, referring to the the seaside city where an estimated 100,000 people are trapped while a contingent of Ukrainian fighters hold out against Russian forces in a steel mill where hundreds of civilians also are taking shelter.
"This is really something that the UN is capable to do. And if he demonstrates political will, character and integrity, I hope that will allow us to make one step forward," he said.
In New York, deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Guterres would be bringing many initiatives and suggestions, adding, "I don't want to give too many details at this stage of the sort of proposals he will have," calling it "a fairly delicate moment".
As for going to Moscow before Kyiv, Haq said the itinerary was worked out with both sides and there was "no particular significance in him visiting one country ahead of the other. ...I don't think anyone can say that he is being, as you had put it, pandering to a side on this".
Kuleba spoke a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded on February 24.
They told Zelenskyy the US would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition.
Kuleba praised the visit and called them representatives of "the country that did more than any other country in the world" for Ukraine.
Asked whether the new announcements went far enough, Kuleba said "as long as Russian soldiers put a foot on Ukrainian soil, nothing is enough".
"We appreciate everything that has been done, including by the United States," Kuleba said.
"We understand that, for some, what has been done is already a revolution, but this is not enough as long as the war continues.
"It's not because Ukrainians are greedy, it's not because we want to grasp the opportunity and get as much as we want. No, it's because we need to win this war," he said.
Kuleba emphasised the need for the West to speedily provide weapons needed by Ukraine to win the war and stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from going "deeper into Europe".
"You know, every conversation about weapons starts with us saying we need this.' And the initial answer is we don't think you need exactly this. ... Let us reflect on it.' It takes some time for partners to reflect, but the problem is that the war continues here," he said.
"In the end, we do get what we need, and then we start getting it in sufficient quantities. But time has been lost. This is the main issue that needs to be addressed, and we were very open with our in particular American counterparts and also with other countries on that. Start doing things fast."
Although Ukraine and Russia have held talks on ending the war since its early days, Kuleba said he thought anything lower than discussions between Zelenskyy and Putin would bring little resolution.
On his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kuleba said: "I don't think he's ready for a serious conversation."
He added that he didn't think Russia is ready to find “solutions at the negotiating table.”
"But if I see that they change this attitude and they are ready to seriously look for mutually acceptable solutions, I will overcome my disgust and sit down with him and talk," Kuleba said.
"The sooner President Putin agrees to meet with President Zelenskyy, the more likely it will be to bring the moment of the end of the war closer," he added.
"I don't give a 100% guarantee, but I have confidence in my president. I understand that he's prepared for that conversation and he knows how to negotiate. The longer President Putin escapes this meeting, the (more) likely it is that he is focused entirely on the war scenario," Kuleba said.
He reiterated Zelenskyy's position that an escalation in Mariupol would ruin chances of negotiating with Russia.
"We sent a very clear message: If you want to kill those people or you want to take them in as prisoners and humiliate, that will be it. That will be the red line,” he said. “But it's not enough to keep things as they are. It's really important to evacuate all of them, to save them."