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Chemical weapons fears hang over crisis talks under way in Turkey

The war in Ukraine may have passed the point where a peace deal between Moscow and Kyiv could be reached, Britain’s armed forces minister has said, as he accused President Vladimir Putin of war crimes.

James Heappey cast doubt on the chances of any compromise between Russia and Ukraine as their foreign ministers prepare to meet for crisis talks in Turkey on Thursday.

Mr Heappey noted intelligence reports about the use of chemical weapons and said Moscow should note the weapons had “triggered an international response” in the past.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to get into any firm commitment right now about where that red line sits, but I think President Putin needs to be very clear that when other countries have used chemical weapons it has caused an international response,” he said.

“I think he should reflect very urgently on what has happened to other countries where they have used them.”

Two weeks after Mr Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of the former Soviet nation, Mr Heappey highlighted there is little appetite on the Ukrainian side for any agreement that would see its territory reduced.

Asked by Sky News if it was time for the UK to pressure the Ukrainians to reach a compromise deal with the Russians in order to bring an end to the bloodshed, he responded: “What compromise would you suggest is acceptable?”

“Four weeks ago Ukraine was a sovereign country living peacefully without threatening its neighbours within its own borders. I don’t know that the international community should be turning around to President Zelenskyy and say it’s time to reward Putin with having basically bullied him out of the Donbas and to write off the Crimea.

“If President Zelenskyy were to choose to do that as the sovereign leader of Ukraine that’s a decision for him. But I think he’s made very clear he’s unwilling to accept that and I don’t know that the international community should be willing to trade away Ukrainian sovereignty as part of any negotiation.”

Mr Heappey also accused Mr Putin of war crimes, pointing to Russia’s bombing of a maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

A child was among three people who were confirmed to have died in the attack. Some 17 people were also injured, including staff and patients, local officials said.

The World Health Organisation confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.

“What you see on your TV screens is a war crime,” Mr Heappey said. “Now clearly there is evidence to be gathered in which to prove that it is a war crime and western countries are working together to make sure that that evidence is gathered in the best way so that people can be held to account.”

Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts suggested a compromise deal was unlikely at this stage of the war.

“There doesn’t seem to be any common ground between the two sides at all at the moment,” he told Sky News.

“If the Ukrainians were ever in any mood for compromise, which I don’t think they were, the horrors of the last fortnight I think have made them even less so. Nobody knows what Putin would regard as a minimum face-saving outcome for this awful assault that he has now launched but I don’t think, having listened to President Zelenskyy in Parliament two days ago, that he is in any mood for any concessions at all.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba “will open the door to a permanent cease-fire”.

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