As peace efforts to end the intensifying Ukraine war have stalled, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will ramp up his mediation efforts through direct meetings with the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, respectively, next week, according to the world body.
Guterres's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric announced on Friday that the UN chief will "be received by" Putin and Zelensky in their countries and will have working meetings with their Foreign Ministers.
Guterres will first go to Moscow on April 25 and then to Ukraine on April 28.
The announcement of the meetings with Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba did not say where the meetings will take place.
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Powerless to act against the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of Moscow's veto powers in the Security Council, the UN as an institution is facing one of its gravest crises.
The invasion ordered by Putin is also a personal betrayal of Guterres who had said till the conflict began on February 24 that a war was unlikely.
After the Moscow trip was announced on Friday morning, Guterres's associate spokesperson Eri Kaneko told reporters: "He wants to discuss with the leadership, what steps can be taken right now in order to silence the guns in order to help the people and in order to allow the people who need to get out to get out and have safe passage."
Guterres had written to both Russia and Ukraine asking to visit their countries in an effort to end the conflict after various diplomatic initiatives by international leaders proved unsuccessful.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed during phone calls with Putin and Zelensky to negotiate an end to the conflict.
Representatives of Russia and Ukraine have been holding talks in Belarus and Turkey and online but have failed to make headway.
Russian news service TASS quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday that there was "slow progress in the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations".
Guterres cancelled a planned trip to Nigeria next week to visit Russia and Ukraine.
His visits to the two adversaries come as Russia has intensified its assault in the face of stiff resistance by Ukraine.
The UN chief's call for an Easter ceasefire this weekend has been rejected by Moscow.
Some of the Orthodox Christian churches celebrate Easter on Sunday as they follow a separate calendar from the Western churches which observed the feast last Sunday.
In this regard, Kaneko said: "The Secretary-General is not so much disappointed that his own personal call was unheeded, but more that there has been no truce, that civilians cannot leave besieged areas and that the aid that the UN and our partners are ready to deliver to these besieged areas cannot go in."
But she left open a window of optimism with two days to go: "We operate with the currency of hope."
Guterres had appointed as his mediator Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths who has visited both Moscow and Kiev.
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However, Griffiths tested positive for Covid-19 this week ahead of a scheduled trip to Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is hosting talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Kaneko said that Guterres hoped to further the discussions Griffiths and others have had.
The General Assembly has condemned the invasion and demanded that Moscow end the conflict.
But unlike the Council, the Assembly is powerless to implement its decisions.