Ukrainian and Russian negotiators sat face to face for the first time in weeks on Tuesday in Turkey, to resume direct talks thatThe government hopes for a ceasefire more than a month after Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion. There appeared to be tangible progress, with Russia declaring that it would “significantly reduce” its offensive around Kyiv and another city to “increase mutual trust” and enable talks to continue.
Ukrainian officials are pressing for a ceasefire agreement to enable thousands of civilians to leave the besieged towns and cities still bombed by Russian forces.
Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky walked away from talks on Tuesday to say his country had received a “clearly formulated position” from Ukraine, and that “the possibility of peace will become closer” as the two sides continue to work quickly to find compromises.
Ukrainian negotiators also noted some progress as the two sides seek mutual “security guarantees.”
David Arahamia, one of the Ukrainian negotiators, declared a “first victory” once the venue for the negotiations was moved from Belarus, Russia’s ally on Ukraine’s northern border, to Turkey. “We consider Turkey one of the countries that guarantee the safety of Ukraine,” he added.
But the most important announcement after Tuesday’s talks came from Moscow, where the Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it would “reduce military activity” in order to “create the necessary conditions for further negotiations”.
Ukraine’s leaders have made clear since last week that they are willing to accept an official neutral status for the country, exclude NATO membership and accept some restrictions on its military, in exchange for ending the war.
“Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of a treaty on neutrality and the non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine, are being carried out, taking into account the principles discussed during today’s meeting, by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation – in order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions To conduct further negotiations and achieve the ultimate goal … A decision was made to radically reduce, at times, military activity in Kyiv and Chernihiv “Trends”, said Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin.
It was not clear to what extent the Russian army would reduce its artillery bombardment against the outskirts of Kyiv and the collapsed city of Chernihiv, near the Russian border, but it was the first time that Moscow had given any indication that it would reduce its intensity. A “special military operation” since it began on February 24.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it will now focus its efforts on eastern Ukraine to secure the “independence” of two separatist regions controlled by Moscow-backed separatist fighters.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the round of Russian-Ukrainian talks in his country had made the “most significant progress” so far toward ending the war, but his US counterpart, Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken, was more cautious.
“I will leave it to our Ukrainian partners to describe whether there has been any real progress and whether Russia is meaningfully involved,” Blinken told reporters on Tuesday. “What I can say is this: There is what Russia says, there is what Russia does. We focus on the latter. And what Russia is doing is continuing the brutal treatment of Ukraine and its people. And that continues as we speak.”
While the Russian Defense Ministry has pinned the change in tactics to the peace talks, a former Ukrainian ambassador told BBC News that, in his view, it was up to Russia to be forced to accept the facts on the ground.
“They may realize that they did not win this war and they will never win,” former Ukrainian ambassador to Austria Dr Oleksandr Sherpa told the BBC after Tuesday’s negotiations. “We know what we’re fighting for, and the Russians don’t.”
CBS News senior correspondent Holly Williams reports that Putin’s ground forces have been stalled for weeks as they approach Kyiv and other towns, and suffer heavy losses. Up to 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed in the fighting that lasted just over a month, according to a NATO official estimate.
Unable to advance due to logistical failures and stiff Ukrainian resistance, Russia resorted to a war of attrition, bombing cities from afar with missiles and artillery.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address Monday evening that Russia’s “cruel war against our nation” has killed at least 143 children.
He praised Ukraine’s defense forces for refusing to allow Russian forces to take control of Kyiv, and said they are even pushing Putin’s army out of some of the towns it has captured near the capital.
“Our defenders are advancing in the Kyiv region, restoring control of the Ukrainian lands,” Zelensky said. “The occupiers are being driven away from Irbin, from Kyiv. However, it is still too early to talk about security in this part of the region. The fighting continues.”
Williams and her team saw firsthand this week that the advance of Ukrainian forces did not guarantee safety for people living in the towns retaken from Russia.
Williams was with Ukrainian troops as they traveled overland on Monday toward the town of Makarev, about 40 miles west of Kyiv. Ukraine said its forces recaptured Makarev last week, but as they approached, Ukrainian forces spotted Russian drones flying overhead.
The situation was tense. The convoy twice left its vehicles on the side of the road and scattered for cover. The explosion of shells was heard nearby.
Williams said it was clear that Ukraine’s struggle for freedom could be long and dangerous.
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