Despite positive comments from both Ukrainian and Russian officials after peace talks in Istanbul, Secretary of State Antony Blinken cast doubt on the negotiations and said there are still no signs Russia is taking them seriously.
Blinken said that the US would leave it up to Ukraine to say if progress was made during the talks. “I have not seen anything that suggests that this is moving forward in an effective way, because Russia — at least we have not seen signs of real seriousness,” Blinken said Tuesday in Morrocco.
During Tuesday’s talks, Ukraine put forward a potential peace deal that includes a vow to drop its bid to join NATO in exchange for other security guarantees, which will now be considered by the Russian side. After the negotiations, Russia’s military announced that it would “drastically” reduce military operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.
“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said. He claimed the Russian announcement of a withdrawal near Kyiv and Chernihiv could be an attempt to “deceive people and deflect attention.” But US officials told CNN that Russia has begun withdrawing troops from the areas, in what they called a “major” strategy shift by Moscow.
Vladimir Medinsky, the head of Russia’s negotiating team, said the move to pull troops away from the cities did not mean there was a ceasefire and cautioned that the negotiations have a long way to go. “This is not a ceasefire but this is our aspiration, gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict at least on these fronts,” he said. “However, to prepare such an agreement on a mutually acceptable basis, we still have a long way to go.”
At this point, the Biden administration hasn’t shown much interest in engaging in diplomacy with Moscow. Last week, the State Department said Blinken hasn’t spoken with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov since February 15, over a week before Russia invaded.