Russia has announced it will drastically scale back its military operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv after peace talks in Istanbul appeared to be making headway.
The Russian Defense Ministry promised to reduce its activities near the Ukrainian capital in order to create conditions for further dialogue.
Negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators concluded for today, with Kyiv presenting a new security guarantee proposal that could see the country accepting neutral status in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Russia’s military has announced it will “substantially restrict” operations near the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv “to boost confidence” in talks between the two countries.
This was followed by fresh peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Istanbul Tuesday, aimed at ending fighting at the scene.
The move appears to be the first major concession the Russians have made since they began invading Ukraine on February 24.
Later, an official on the Ukrainian side said the new security system could count Turkey, Canada, Poland and Israel among its guarantors.
The move would have to go to a referendum in Ukraine but could lead to a ban on foreign military bases in the country, the diplomat said. It would result in a neutral status for Ukraine, a requirement of Russia.
Conversations at eye level
Earlier, Ukraine said it was ready to declare neutrality and offer security guarantees to Russia, including keeping the country nuclear-weapon-free if Moscow withdraws its troops, as the two sides prepared to begin direct talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his side is ready to offer Russia guarantees and seeks peace “immediately”.
“Security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state – we are ready for that. That’s the main point… that’s why they started the war,” he said in an interview with Russian journalists.
Ukraine’s leader has hinted at this before, but rarely so forcefully, and the latest comments could add new impetus to talks on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s priorities, he said, are “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Zelenskyy said a possible compromise could be for Russia to withdraw its troops to areas where they were before the invasion began on February 24.
“I realize that it is impossible to force Russia to leave the territory completely. It could lead to World War III. I understand completely. I’m fully aware of that,” he said. “That’s why I say, yes, this is a compromise: go back to where it all began, and then let’s try to solve the Donbass problem, the complex Donbass problem.”
He added: “That’s why I say this is a compromise. Go back to where it all began and then we will try to solve the difficult Donbass problem,” said Zelenskyy.
“So we meet, we make a deal, and that’s enough – we sign a deal, stamp it or sign it in blood. That’s enough to start the troop withdrawal process. The troops have to be withdrawn, everyone signs the guarantees and that’s it,” he said.
President Zelenskyy also called on Vladimir Putin to take part directly in the talks and meet him in person.
“We have to come to an agreement with the President of the Russian Federation, and in order to reach an agreement, he has to get out of this on his own … and meet me.”
His adviser, Alexander Rodnyansky, told the BBC that Ukraine was not ready to give up any territory.
“If you ask the people who live in these areas, they wouldn’t want to live in Russia,” Mr Rodnyansky said. “How can we leave her? Not to mention the whole idea of dismembering our country.”
The Russian foreign minister said talks could only start after key elements of a possible deal have been negotiated. Sergey Lavrov said that “the meeting is necessary as soon as we have clarity about the solutions to all important issues.”
In an interview with Serbian media, Lavrov claimed that Ukraine only wants to “mimic talks,” while Russia needs specific results backed by the countries’ leaders.
The war is now in its fifth week and has so far claimed the lives of thousands and displaced some 10 million people from their homes, many of them fleeing Ukraine.
On the ground, the situation in the besieged city of Mariupol continued to deteriorate on Monday.
Officials said up to 200,000 people were still trapped in the city, which was wiped out after weeks of shelling and shelling by Russian forces.
The supply is becoming increasingly scarce, said a resident who fled. Alina Beskrovna, who made it across the border into Poland, said that desperate people are melting snow for water and cooking on open fires, “under fire and bombs just because if you don’t you have nothing to eat”.
“There is no medicine. I think a lot of people are starving in their homes without help right now,” she said. “This is mass murder committed by the Russians.”
Ukraine estimated on Monday the war had cost the country more than £430 billion in destroyed infrastructure.
On the ground, Ukrainian forces claimed to have recaptured the town of Irpin, near Kyiv, although there was no independent confirmation.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/russia-to-drastically-scale-down-kyiv-assault-as-neutral-status-offered-at-peace-talks-41499534.html Russia will ‘drastically reduce’ attack on Kyiv as neutral status offered at peace talks