Russia will scale back military operations around Kyiv and the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv to “boost mutual trust,” Moscow said today at the end of the first day of talks in Istanbul to end Russia’s month-long war against Ukraine.
The announcement by Moscow Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin is the first significant concession by the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, although it was met with skepticism and caution by world powers like Britain and the US.
“In order to strengthen mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achievement of the ultimate goal of reaching agreement and signing (an) agreement, the decision was made to radically and by a wide margin reduce military activities in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv reduce,” Mr Fomin told reporters after the first day of negotiations.
Mr Putin’s hopes of a quick military victory were thwarted by heavy resistance, with Ukrainians retaking areas despite civilians being trapped in besieged towns, and some analysts noted that Russia’s promise to reduce fighting mainly affected areas in which it had lost ground.
Responding to Mr Fomin’s statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested it could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and divert attention”, while a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was going to Mr Condemn Putin and his regime. by his deeds, not by his words”.
Ukraine offered to drop NATO membership ambitions, but only in exchange for security guarantees “stronger than NATO’s”.
At the peace talks in Istanbul, attended by Roman Abramovich after recovering from fears of being poisoned, Ukraine said it was ready to give in to one of Vladimir Putin’s key demands and abandon its bid to join NATO.
But in return it wants a binding commitment from countries like Britain and the US to come to its aid should it attack.
In other words, it wants the same protections that NATO membership affords under Article V, which says an attack on one is an attack on all.
“We want an international security guarantee mechanism, where the guarantor countries act similar to NATO’s Article V – and even more decisively,” said David Arakhamia, one of Ukraine’s chief negotiators.
According to the Ukrainians’ plans, several countries would pledge themselves as “unconditional guarantors”.
Ukraine named the US, UK, China, France, Germany, Canada, Israel, Italy, Poland and Turkey as potential guarantors. They would promise to come to the aid of Ukraine within three days if it faced any type of attack, including hybrid warfare.
This is tougher than Article V, which does not provide for a time limit for action. It also doesn’t specify what kind of actions members should take, while Ukraine outlines some options for its guarantors.
“They could supply weapons or impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, one of the negotiators. But this last option highlighted a possible flaw in the plan: even if Russia agrees, Ukraine must convince the guarantor countries to sign the agreement.
The West has rejected Ukrainian requests for a no-fly zone over fears that shooting down Russian planes could trigger a third world war. Countries like Israel and China might be even more reluctant to get involved.
The same problem applies to another important Ukrainian claim. Ukrainians say they are ready to agree to becoming a non-aligned, non-nuclear state with no foreign military bases on their soil.
But in return they want Russia to agree not to reject Ukraine’s membership of the European Union.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s chief negotiator, seemed to suggest that Moscow might be ready to agree yesterday, only for Russians to backtrack on his comments.
One might imagine that Ukrainian EU membership would be hard for the Kremlin to accept. After all, it was the prospect of Ukraine signing an association agreement with the bloc that prompted Putin to intervene in 2013. This led to the Euromaidan protests, followed by the Russian occupation of Crimea and the start of the war in 2014.
Even if Russia agrees, hurdles remain. The reaction when Kyiv made an urgent application for membership at the beginning of the war said it all. There was initial enthusiasm and solidarity. But days later, Brussels made it clear that there would be no accelerated approval. A number of member states, including France, are known to have reservations about pushing Ukraine into the bloc.
There are two countries at the Istanbul talks, but Ukraine’s key demands require the approval of others, and it is far from clear that they will be met.
So far, the West has united to support Ukraine against invasion, but the test of this unity will be how far it is willing to support Kiev’s peace plan.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy had already signaled that Ukraine was ready to abandon hopes of NATO membership and agree to neutrality in order to secure peace.
But until now, Ukraine’s territorial integrity has been a red line he was unwilling to cross – his government has declared that it will not give up “an inch” of Ukrainian territory.
For the first time, Kyiv has signaled that it is at least ready to talk about territories. It is unwilling to recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Instead, she wants new negotiations on the region.
She has proposed 15-year bilateral talks to determine Crimea’s final status, with a commitment by both sides not to try to decide it by force.
That should probably bring the topic of Crimea to the point for the time being.
Mr. Zelensky knows he will have a hard time getting it back. But he also knows that the Ukrainians will not forgive him if he concedes to Russia. Fifteen years of talks should be enough to keep Crimea’s status open while tacitly agreeing to the whereabouts of Russian troops.
Russia has announced that it will postpone its war goals and focus on Donetsk and Luhansk.
On the face of it, the ceding of two provinces where pro-Kremlin separatists already control large swaths of territory seems like a good outcome for Ukraine compared to the blows its cities have suffered over the past four weeks.
But these blows have hardened attitudes, and Ukrainians will be reluctant to give up any territory when many believe they are winning the war.
Because of this, the Kyiv negotiators have tried to push the issue even further into the background, saying it can only be discussed face-to-face by Mr. Zelenskyy and Mr. Putin. That takes care of the problem for now, but it’s still one that Mr. Zelensky must face if he is to agree any form of peace deal with Russia.
It remains to be seen whether Russia will keep its promise to limit its military operations in Ukraine, said Joe Biden.
The US and other Western nations must keep Russia “closely eyeballed,” the US president said after it vowed to focus only on eastern Ukraine to set the conditions for peace talks to continue.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has accused Russian occupiers of “kidnapping” more than 70 people from the destroyed Mariupol Children’s and Maternity Home into Russian territory.
The Mariupol City Council wrote on Telegram: “Occupiers continue kidnapping residents of Ukrainian Mariupol. More than 70 people were forcibly taken from Maternity Hospital No. 2 in Levoberezhny District – these are medical staff and patients.”
Russian troops deported more than 20,000 residents of Mariupol to “so-called filtration camps” and “remote towns” on Russian territory, the statement said. The Ukrainian passports and other IDs of the deported people were confiscated, the council said.
Meanwhile, four European countries announced on Tuesday that they had expelled Russian diplomats. In what appeared to be a coordinated action, Ireland ordered four senior Russian officials to leave the country over activities deemed “not in line with international standards of diplomatic conduct”.
The Netherlands said they would deport 17 Russians and Belgium said they would deport 21 on alleged espionage charges. Separately, the Czech Republic gave a Russian diplomat 72 hours to leave the country and
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/russia-vows-to-scale-back-military-operations-to-increase-mutual-trust-at-peace-talks-41499534.html Russia pledges to scale back military operations to “boost mutual trust” at peace talks.