Relief for Kyiv? Russia agrees to reduce activities near Ukrainian capital | world news

Russia announced on Tuesday it would drastically reduce military operations near the Ukrainian capital and a northern town, as outlines of a possible deal to end the bitter war emerged in the latest round of talks.

Ukraine’s delegation to the conference, held in Istanbul, established a framework in which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by a range of other nations.

Public reaction from Moscow has been positive and talks are set to resume on Wednesday, five weeks after what turned into a bloody war of attrition, with thousands dead and nearly 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

Amid the talks, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow had decided to “basically…reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create the conditions new negotiations.

He did not immediately specify what that would mean in practice.

The announcement was met with skepticism by the United States and others.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia could not be trusted. Although the signals from the talks are “positive”, they “cannot silence the explosions of Russian shells”, he said in a video address.

Zelenskyy said it was Ukrainian troops who forced Russia’s hand, adding that ‘we should not let our guard down’ as the invading army ‘still has great potential to continue attacks on our country’ .

Ukraine will continue negotiations, he said, but officials do not trust the word of the country which continues to “fight to destroy us”.

While Moscow described it as a gesture of goodwill, its ground troops got bogged down and suffered heavy casualties in their bid to seize kyiv and other cities. Last week and again on Tuesday, the Kremlin appeared to scale back its war aims, saying its ‘main objective’ was now to take control of the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine. .

US President Joe Biden, who asked if the Russian announcement was a sign of progress in the talks or an attempt by Moscow to buy time to continue its assault, said: “We will see. I don’t see it until I see what their actions are.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested that the Russian indications of a rollback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and divert attention”.

It would not be the first time. In the tense build-up to the invasion, the Russian military announced that some units were loading equipment onto wagons and preparing to return to their bases after completing drills. At the time, Putin was showing interest in diplomacy. But 10 days later, Russia launched its invasion.

Western officials say Moscow is now bolstering its troops in the Donbass in a bid to encircle Ukrainian forces. And Russia’s murderous siege in the south continues, with civilians trapped in the ruins of Mariupol and other bombed cities.

“There’s what Russia says and there’s what Russia does, and we focus on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.”

Even as negotiators gathered, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces gouged a gaping hole in a nine-story government administration building in a strike on the southern port city of Mykolaiv, killing at least 12 people , announced the emergency authorities. The search for other bodies in the rubble continued.

“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before hitting the building, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US had detected a small number of Russian ground forces moving away from the kyiv area, but it appeared to be a repositioning of forces, ‘not a real withdrawal’ .

He said it was too early to say how big Russian moves might be or where troops will be repositioned.

“That doesn’t mean the threat to kyiv is over,” Kirby said. “They can still inflict massive brutality on the country, including in Kyiv.” He said Russian airstrikes on kyiv were continuing.

Rob Lee, a military expert at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, tweeted of the Russian announcement: “It sounds more like an acknowledgment of the situation around Kyiv where the advance of Russia has been stuck for weeks and Ukrainian forces have had recent successes. . Russia does not have the forces to encircle the city.

The Istanbul meeting was the first time that negotiators from Russia and Ukraine had spoken face to face in two weeks. Previous talks have taken place in person in Belarus or via video.

Among other things, the Kremlin has always demanded that Ukraine abandon all hope of joining NATO.

The Ukrainian delegation proposed a detailed framework for a peace agreement under which the security of a neutral Ukraine would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland, in an arrangement similar to “an attack on one is an attack on all”.

Ukraine has said it would also be willing to hold 15-year talks on the future of the Crimean peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014.

Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, told Russian television that the Ukrainian proposals are a “step to meet us halfway, a clearly positive fact”.

He warned that the parties are still a long way from reaching an agreement, but said: “We now know how to go further towards a compromise. We are not just marking time in the talks.

Christi C. Elwood