Russia says it will reduce military activity near Ukrainian capital | Russo-Ukrainian War

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have ended the first direct talks in more than two weeks in Istanbul, with Moscow saying it is ready to “fundamentally reduce” military activity near the Ukrainian capital of kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the move was aimed at ‘increasing confidence’ in talks aimed at ending the fighting, as negotiators met face to face on Tuesday after several rounds of unsuccessful talks .

Fomin said Moscow had decided to “basically…reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv.”

On the Ukrainian side, negotiators said they were ready to accept a neutral status – one of Russia’s main demands – if an international agreement under which other countries would serve as guarantors of Ukraine’s security would be set up.

“We want an international mechanism of security guarantees where the guarantor countries will act similar to NATO’s article number five – and even more firmly,” David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian negotiator, told reporters.

Arakhamia said that a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents is possible and that before any final agreement with Russia there must be full peace throughout Ukraine.

Turkey welcomes “significant progress”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks at Dolmabahce Palace over the Bosphorus Strait marked “the most significant progress” since war broke out between the two countries.

Speaking after the three-hour talks ended, Cavusoglu said the talks represented “the most significant progress since the start of negotiations” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Talks will not resume on Wednesday, he added.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Moscow, said Russia’s announcement could be ‘the biggest from the Russian military’ since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine last month .

It’s an indication “that there has been major progress in the talks” between Moscow and Kyiv, Ahelbarra said.

He added that the move would send a “message to Ukrainians that Russia has no intention of massing troops or moving troops in the future to try to take control of Kyiv.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations at the Dolmabahce presidential office in Istanbul
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations [Arda Kucukkaya/Anadolu Agency]

In a speech ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told delegations they had a “historic responsibility” to stop the fighting, and that progress would pave the way for the countries’ two leaders to meet.

Ukrainian television said the meeting started with “a cold reception” and no handshake between delegations.

Neither side has budged on Russia’s territorial claims, including Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow has demanded kyiv gives in to pro-Russian separatists.

Previous rounds of Russian-Ukrainian talks, held in person in Belarus or via video, have failed to bring an end to a month-long war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes – nearly four million of them from their country.

Abramovich present

Turkey, a NATO member, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, enjoys good relations with both and has offered to mediate in the conflict. While calling Moscow’s invasion unacceptable, Ankara has also opposed Western sanctions.

The talks were attended by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who was sanctioned by the West for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin said Abramovich played an early role in the peace talks, but the process now falls to the negotiating teams.

According to the Wall Street Journal and investigative newspaper Bellingcat, which cited people familiar with the matter, Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning earlier this month after a meeting in Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials poured cold water on the report.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich listens to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (not seen) address Russian and Ukrainian negotiators
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, third from right, listens to Turkish President Erdogan address Russian and Ukrainian negotiators ahead of their face-to-face talks [Screengrab: Turkish Presidency via Reuters TV]

The West has imposed heavy sanctions on Abramovich and other Russian billionaires, as well as Russian companies and Russian officials, in an effort to force Putin out of Ukraine.

While calling Russia’s invasion unprovoked, Turkey said it opposed sanctions imposed by its NATO allies on principle.

Its potential as a safe haven for Russian investment increases the risks for the Turkish government, banks and businesses which could face tough rulings and sanctions if the US and others step up pressure on Moscow with broader “secondary” sanctions.

Christi C. Elwood