Ukraine and Russia make 'most meaningful progress' since start of peace talks

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By Euronews  with AP
Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, right, stands as a translator gives his statement after peace talks in Istanbul
Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, right, stands as a translator gives his statement after peace talks in Istanbul   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Russia will “fundamentally" cut back operations near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv following "substantial" peace talks in Istanbul, Russian negotiators said on Tuesday.

The talks marked the first face-to-face meeting for two weeks between the two sides and sparked hopes that progress is being made towards a ceasefire.

Russia's Deputy Defence Minister, Alexander Fomin, said the move was meant “to increase trust” in talks aimed at ending the fighting.

Russian troops have been bogged down and struggling to make major advances in recent weeks.

Fomin said Moscow had decided to “fundamentally [...] cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations."

Ukraine’s military said it had noted withdrawals around Kyiv and Chernihiv, though the Pentagon said it could not corroborate the reports.

Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A Ukrainian soldier secures the area next to the regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Ukraine looking for security guarantees

As part of any settlement, Ukraine wants an international agreement to guarantee its security, with potentially several countries signing up to be guarantors.

After several hours of talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Ukraine's chief negotiator David Arakhamia said "we insist that it is an international agreement which will be signed by all the guarantors of security".

"We want an international mechanism of security guarantees where the guarantor countries will act in a similar way to Chapter 5 of NATO and even more firmly" he added.

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country was prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and was open to compromise over the contested eastern region of Donbas — comments that might have lent momentum to negotiations.

However Zelenskyy said he wanted Ukrainians to be able to vote in a referendum on any neutrality or NATO membership, and then only once Russian troops have withdrawn from Ukrainian territory.

Possible Putin-Zelenskyy meeting?

The progress made so far at Tuesday's talks seem to have shifted the needle on a possible meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents.

Zelenskyy said recently that there could be speedy progress to ending the conflict if he could meet with Vladimir Putin but the Russians poured cold water on that idea.

Now, however, Ukraine's Chief Negotiator David Arakhamia says that conditions are now "sufficient" for the two leaders to meet.

"The results of today's meeting (in Istanbul) are sufficient for a meeting at the level of heads of state," he said.

As the talks got underway on Tuesday morning, Turkey's President Erdogan said delegates had an "historic responsibility" to bring peace to the conflict.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed the two sides had made "the most meaningful progress" since the start of negotiations and that the next step would be a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers.

Cavusoglu added that Turkey encouraged the two sides to “secure a cease-fire” and an agreement on the issue of the opening of humanitarian corridors.