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U.N. secretary general goes to Moscow for talks with President Putin

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The United Nations' secretary-general was in Moscow yesterday for talks with President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister. The focus of those talks - trying to ease the civilian suffering in Ukraine and setting up humanitarian corridors. From Moscow, NPR's Charles Maynes reports.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Moscow, acknowledging serious differences with Russia over events unfolding in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: But that does not limit the possibility to have a very serious dialogue on how best we can work to minimize the suffering of people.

MAYNES: Guterres' main proposal - have the U.N. oversee efforts to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors that have repeatedly broken down amid acrimony between Kyiv and Moscow. The secretary-general pointed to the plight of Ukrainians trapped in a steelworks factory in the city of Mariupol, where Russian forces have laid siege as a crisis within a crisis. His office later issued a statement claiming President Vladimir Putin had agreed in principle to a U.N. role.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Yet in the televised portion of his meeting with Guterres at the Kremlin, Putin said the U.N. chief had been misled about Russia's humanitarian efforts in Mariupol and blamed Ukrainian fighters for preventing any civilians from leaving the area. Putin also explained to the U.N. diplomat Russia's legal justifications for sending troops into Ukraine after Guterres called the move a, quote, "invasion." Russian authorities have criminalized that description of the military campaign, arguing its troops are on a limited humanitarian mission to protect Russian speakers in east Ukraine. In fact, the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine seemed the lone point of consensus during the secretary-general's visit, including during this exchange with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Here's Guterres.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUTERRES: We have not Ukrainian troops in the territory of the Russian Federation, but we have Russian troops in the territory of the Ukrainian Federation.

MAYNES: Lavrov leaned into his microphone and added.

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SERGEY LAVROV: (Through interpreter) This is true, I can confirm this.

MAYNES: It was a rare point of agreement in a visit marked by few.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.