KYIV, Ukraine — As Russian forces bore down on Ukraine’s capital and officials put the toll of civilian dead at more than 350 since the invasion began, the two countries agreed Sunday to sit down for talks “without preconditions,” but hopes were not high for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Even as Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to send a delegation to meet with Russian officials near the border with Belarus, he made it clear that he expected little to come of it. He declined to agree to any conditions or concessions before the talks, making it clear that he would not grant Russia the upper hand after its unprovoked attacks.
Even with prospect of the talks, satellite imagery showed a miles-long convoy of hundreds of Russian military vehicles bearing down on Kyiv.
Mr. Zelensky, who was not planning to attend the talks, tried to keep expectations in check.
“I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting,” he said, “but let them try to make sure that no citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as a president, have not tried to stop the war.”
As world leaders moved to isolate Moscow and inflict heavy economic pain over the invasion, Russia showed little apparent interest in de-escalating.
President Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing the West’s “aggressive” actions, said he had told his defense minister and his top military commander to place Russia’s nuclear forces on alert. Not only are Western countries imposing “illegitimate sanctions” against Russia, Mr. Putin said, “but senior officials of leading NATO countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements directed at our country.”
The United Nations Security Council responded by voting to convene a rare special session of the General Assembly — only the 11th time it has done so since 1950. Eleven of the Security Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution.
In Ukraine, Russian forces were on the move in the south, threatening a major port, and in the north, where they were continuing their drive toward Kyiv.
But Ukrainian officials took some obvious satisfaction in Russia’s call for talks, which came as its forces met far more resistance than expected, failing to quickly seize the capital, Kyiv.
“The enemy expected an easy walk, but got real hell,” said Prime Minister Denys Shmygal. Russia’s leadership, he said, “does not understand that it is at war not only with the armed forces of Ukraine, but with the entire Ukrainian people.”
But international military experts cautioned that the war is young.
They noted that Ukrainian forces are spread thin, with only limited ammunition, and that thousands of better-trained Russian soldiers have not yet been thrown into the fight. The worry is that Mr. Putin may move to harsher tactics, including the shelling of cities, if his forces get bogged down.
The request for talks also came as the European Union moved to impose tough new economic sanctions on Russia, and announced a total closure of E.U. airspace to Russian aircraft.
The measure will exclude not just Russian airlines but also Russian-chartered private jets from all 27 member states’ airspaces, practically banning Russians from European skies.
In the center of Ukraine, Russia appears to be trying to cut off the main Ukrainian military forces, which have been defending the former line of contact with the Donetsk and Luhansk enclaves, to prevent them from moving toward the capital and getting supplies sent by Western allies overland through Poland.
Russian troops, at least for a time, also drew closer to the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to videos and photographs analyzed by The New York Times. The footage showed Ukrainians firing rockets toward Russian troops, as well as some Russian military vehicles burning and others being ransacked by Ukrainian forces.