Russia promised on Tuesday to scale down military operations around Kyiv and another city but the United States warned the threat was not over as Ukraine proposed adopting a neutral status as a sign of progress at face-to-face negotiations.
Talks took place in an Istanbul palace more than a month into the largest attack on a European nation since World War Two that has killed or injured thousands, forced nearly 4 million to flee abroad and pummelled Russia’s economy with sanctions.
Russia has started moving very small numbers of troops away from positions around Kyiv in a move that is more of a repositioning than a retreat or a withdrawal from the war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
“A decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters on Tuesday.
He made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.
“It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over,” spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.
A total of 10 U.S. F-18 aircraft and more than 200 troops are being deployed to NATO member and Russian neighbour, Lithuania, and U.S. troops in Poland are “liaising” with Ukrainian forces as they hand over weapons to them, he added.
Russia calls its assault a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. The West says it launched an unprovoked invasion.
Ukraine’s Proposal For Peace Treaty
On Tuesday, Turkey hosted the latest round of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The Ukrainian side has come up with a written proposal for a peace treaty between the two nations, Russia’s top negotiator Vladimir Medinsky told the media after the session, which he described as “substantive.”
The proposal will now be relayed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for consideration, he added. Here is what else emerged after the talks.
1/ Russian offensive scaled down
An immediate practical effect of the talks will be a de-escalation of military activities in some parts of Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry announced. In particular, it pledged to “dramatically” reduce its operations near the cities of Chernigov and the capital, Kyiv.
2/ NATO-like security guarantees
David Arakhamia, Medinsky’s opposite number in the Ukrainian delegation, said Kyiv had sought a security guarantee similar to that contained in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. He named Russia, the UK, China, the US, Turkey, France, Canada, Italy, Poland and Israel as possible providers. Some of them have given their preliminary agreement, he said.
3/ No military blocs and non-nuclear Ukraine
In the proposal, Ukraine pledged not to join any military alliance, not to host foreign military bases or foreign troops, Medinsky said. Even military exercises would require prior approval from guarantors, according to the proposal. Kyiv also pledged not to seek to obtain weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, the official added. But in return, Ukraine wants Russia not to object to its joining the EU one day.
4/ Crimea, Donbas unresolved
According to Medinsky, Kyiv offered a 15-year moratorium on the status of Crimea, during which its fate would be negotiated and both sides would pledge not to use military force to resolve it. This is not compatible with Russia’s position that Crimea is part of its territory and Kyiv needs to recognize it as such.
Ukraine also sought to include “parts” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions into the definition of its territory for the purpose of security guarantees, the Russian envoy said. Moscow officially recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as sovereign states – in their full regional boundaries – just days before sending troops into Ukraine last month.
5/ Borders in question
Medinsky said Kyiv did not state whether it would relinquish its territorial claim to Donetsk and Lugansk. Prior to February, Ukraine controlled a large portion of both Donetsk and Lugansk and considers the regions to be its own territory.
Arakhamia made it clear that Kyiv will assert sovereignty over the entire territory that Ukraine had when it declared independence in 1991, saying there could be no compromise on this point.
6/ New conditions for Zelensky-Putin meeting
Moscow has agreed to organize a meeting between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky as part of the final phase of negotiations over the future peace treaty. The Kremlin had previously said that such a meeting could only be scheduled once the document was finalized and inked by the respective foreign ministers.
Ukraine-Russia talks: ‘We’ll see,’ says Biden
President Joe Biden says he’s waiting to see how Russia adjusts its troop presence in Ukraine before assessing the intent behind them.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden was asked whether the withdrawal was a sign that negotiations to rein in the month-long invasion might be showing progress, or an indication that Russia was merely trying to buy time to continue its assault on Ukraine.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are.”
As for the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Biden said the consensus of Western allies is to “see what they have to offer.”
Cautious reaction to Ukraine-Russia talks from Western leaders
The American, French, British, German and Italian leaders were cautious after the announcement of these advances in the Russian-Ukrainian talks.
Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi warned in a telephone conversation against any “slackening of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over”, according to Downing Street.
They said they agreed to “continue to increase the cost paid by Russia”, according to the White House.