Russia’s military announced Tuesday that it would “drastically” reduce operations near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv as talks between the warring sides in Istanbul made progress towards a peace deal.
Speaking to reporters following the talks, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that “a decision was made to drastically … reduce the military activity on the approaches to Kyiv and Chernihiv.” He said Russia expects “relevant key decisions will be taken in Kyiv and the conditions for further normal work will be created.”
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s head negotiator, described the Istanbul talks as “constructive” and said the Ukrainians delivered an outline for a peace proposal that will be relayed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under the potential deal, Ukraine would vow not to join NATO or any other military alliance and vow not to host foreign military bases or develop nuclear weapons.
In exchange, Ukraine wants Russia not to block its EU bid and wants security guarantees similar to NATO’s Article 5, the mutual defense clause of the military alliance that outlines “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Ukraine wants guarantees from Russia, the US, the UK, China, Turkey, France, Canada, Italy, Poland, and Israel.
It’s not clear if all countries would agree to what is essentially a mutual defense treaty with Ukraine. David Arakhamia, the head of Ukraine’s negotiating team, said some of the countries have already given their preliminary agreement to be a guarantor.
Russia wants Ukraine to recognize Crimea as Russian territory, but the Ukrainians offered to resolve the issue over 15-year talks. In the meantime, Ukraine said it would agree not to use force to resolve the status of Crimea. Russia also wants Ukraine to recognize the independence of the two breakaway republics in the Donbas. But the Donbas issue wasn’t addressed in Ukraine’s proposal and could potentially be discussed in a future meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Medinsky said Russia would be willing to hold a Putin-Zelensky meeting at the same time as the two country’s foreign ministers meet to work out a peace deal. Russia’s previous position was that a Putin-Zelensky meeting would only be necessary after an agreement was finalized.
The next step for the talks is for Russia to deliver a response to Ukraine’s proposal. In the meantime, US officials told CNN that Russia has started withdrawing forces from areas near Kyiv and Chernihiv, but fighting continues in the east. On Friday, Russia announced that the “first stage” of the invasion was over and that it was now focusing on “liberating” the Donbas.
The US doesn’t appear to be involved in the peace talks as Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed skepticism over Russia’s offers of de-escalation. Since the invasion started on February 24, the Biden administration has not tried high-level diplomacy with Russia to end the fighting. Instead, the US has been working to flood Ukraine with weapons and destroy Russia’s economy through sanctions.