French and German leaders urge immediate ceasefire in call with Putin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a joint press conference on February 8, in Berlin, Germany. (Thibault Camus/Pool/AFP/Getty Images) / POOL / AFP) (Photo by THIBAULT CAMUS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to call an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during a 75-minute call on Saturday. 

Macron and Scholz also appealed to Putin to “move toward a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” according to German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit. 

He said the conversation was part of ongoing international efforts to end the war in Ukraine. The two sides agreed not to disclose any further details of the talks, he added. 

Scholz spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prior to the call with Putin about his “assessment of the current situation,” and “they agreed to remain in close contact,” according to the spokesperson.  

Russian troops surrendering to Ukrainian force : Zelensky

File photo: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Munich Security Conference. ‘We don’t need sanctions after bombardment happens. After we have no borders, no economy. Why would we need those sanctions then?’ Photograph: Matt Dunham/pool/ Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Ukrainian forces are inflicting the “biggest blow to Russia’s army in decades.” 

In a Facebook video address Saturday Zelensky said 31 Russian tactical battalion groups have lost capability, and more than 360 Russian tanks have been lost.

Zelensky added that groups of Russian troops were surrendering to Ukrainian forces, but that Russia is now recruiting fighters, reservists, conscripts, and mercenaries to “outnumber” Ukrainian forces.

Addressing the city of Mariupol, Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces will guarantee a ceasefire along the evacuation corridor out of the city to allow supplies into the city, and to facilitate civilian evacuations.

Zelensky’s remarks come after a Russian airstrike on Mariupol’s maternity and children’s hospital on Wednesday left 17 people injured, including children, women and doctors, according to Mariupol city officials. Three people died, the city council said Thursday, among them, a child.

A pregnant woman, Mariana Vishegirskaya, whose rescue from the Mariupol maternity hospital this week was captured in a viral AP photo, has since given birth to a baby girl, her family confirmed to CNN. 

Sanctions making Russian planes much more dangerous

From CNN’s Chris Isidore

As Russia’s economy gets pummeled by increasingly severe western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, the country’s crucial airlines have been essentially cut off from much of the world

But that is the least of the industry’s problems. Russia’s domestic airline industry could soon become a mere shell of its former self due to restrictions on its operations.

Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union mean that the world’s two major aircraft makers, Boeing (BA) and Airbus (EADSF), can no longer supply spare parts or maintenance support for Russian airlines. The same is true of jet engine makers.

“Within a year Russia will cease to have any kind of viable airline industry,” said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory. 

He said the country’s airline industry could soon find itself somewhere between the heavily sanctioned industries in Iran and North Korea.

That poses a serious problem for Russia’s overall economic activity.

Russia is the world’s largest nation by landmass, more than twice the size of the continental United States. It needs to have a viable airline industry to keep its economy working, said Charles Lichfield, the deputy director of GeoEconomics Center at the Atlantic Council, an international think tank.

Pope offers to mediate as rivers of blood and tears continue to flow in Ukraine

Pope Francis appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and offered to mediate an end to the war

The Vatican is willing to do “everything possible” to assist in reaching a ceasefire and brokering an end to the war in Ukraine. 

The Holy See is “available for any kind of mediation,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, in an interview with Vatican News.

Parolin repeated Pope Francis’ appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week. 

“I asked for an end to the fighting and for a negotiated solution to the conflict. I insisted on respect for the civilian population and on humanitarian corridors,” Parolin said, and he repeated the Pope’s rejection of Moscow’s claim that the war is a military operation. “Words are important, and to define what is happening in Ukraine as a military operation is to fail to recognize the reality of the facts. We are facing a war, which unfortunately claims many civilian victims, as all wars do.” 

The Pope’s “unprecedented gesture” of visiting the Russian embassy to the Vatican the day after the invasion of Ukraine was a “personal step” in order to “express to the authorities in Moscow his concern about the escalation of the war,” Parolin said. War is “madness,” he said, and appealed to the “consciences” of all people involved to cease fighting immediately.

“We have before our eyes the terrible images coming from Ukraine. The victims among the civilians, women, elderly people, and defenseless children who have paid with their lives for the folly of war. The anguish grows as we see cities with gutted houses, no electricity, sub-zero temperatures, lack of food and medicine, as well as millions of refugees, mostly women and children, fleeing the bombs. Over the last few days, I have come across a group of them, who have arrived in Italy from various parts of Ukraine: blank stares, faces without smiles, endless sadness. … What is the fault of those young mothers and their children? We would have to possess a heart of stone in order to remain impassive and allow this havoc to continue, as rivers of blood and tears continue to flow. War is a barbarity,” he said.