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Ukraine has 'zero trust' in Russia over its troops pullback pledge

Ukrainian soldiers look at a damaged Russian tank after recent fights in the town of Trostsyanets, some 400km east of capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 28, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers look at a damaged Russian tank after recent fights in the town of Trostsyanets, some 400km east of capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 28, 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
By Alasdair SandfordEuronews with AP
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“We have zero reasons for trusting whatever the Russians are saying," Ukraine MP Inna Sovsun told Euronews. Meanwhile some of Putin's allies are urging him to continue the war.

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Western leaders have reacted with scepticism to Moscow's pledge to "drastically reduce" combat operations around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

None more so than Ukrainian President Zelensky. In his latest video message, he said there was no reason to believe Russia's announcement, adding that positive signals from the talks in Turkey "don’t silence the explosions of Russian shells".

Tellingly, Moscow's pledge contains no proposal for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Correspondents in the capital reported hearing explosions on Tuesday night. And the bombardments continued overnight in the very areas in which Russia said they would be reduced.

"It is still happening, it is still here," Ukrainian member of parliament Inna Sovsun told Euronews from Kyiv, where she said fighting was continuing in northwestern suburbs.

The politician has been separated from her young son, evacuated to safety from the conflict, but she says there are no reasons to rush into a deal.

“We have zero reasons for trusting whatever the Russians are saying. We should learn this lesson by now and the world should learn this lesson by now… those people are lying all the time.”

Putin, she points out, said a week before the war that Russia was not planning to invade Ukraine.

'There is what Russia says, and what Russia does'

US President Joe Biden was asked on Tuesday whether the Russian withdrawal was a sign that negotiations to rein in the month-long invasion might be showing progress, or an indication that Moscow was merely trying to buy time to continue its assault on Ukraine.

"We'll see," he replied. "I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are." The consensus of Western allies, he said, was to "see what they have to offer".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also sounded a large note of caution.

"What I can say is this: there is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does. We're focused on the latter. And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalisation of Ukraine and its people, and that continues as we speak," he said during a visit to Morocco.

Biden joined the French, British, German and Italian leaders for a conference call. Afterwards, all were cautious after the announcement of advances in the Russian-Ukrainian talks.

Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Olaf Scholz, Mario Draghi and Biden all warned against any "slackening of Western resolve until the horror inflicted on Ukraine is over", according to Downing Street's version of the call.

Russian pledge meant 'to increase trust'

Russia's Deputy Defence Minister, Alexander Fomin, said the pledge to reduce operations around the two major cities was meant “to increase trust” in talks aimed at ending the fighting.

But last week Russia's army chief already announced that the main war effort would now focus on eastern Ukraine, before Kyiv made its latest proposals.

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Sergei Rudskoi claimed that the success of the operation's first phase in reducing the Ukrainian army's combat potential "makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas".

Western commentators believe the real reason for Moscow's shift in position is that Russian troops have been bogged down and struggling to make major advances in recent weeks. In fact, Ukrainian forces have been counter attacking and regaining territory.

"Reality dressed up as a concession," was how Lord Peter Ricketts, former UK National Security Adviser, described the Russian move in a BBC interview on Tuesday night.

Moscow's promises 'not kept'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is prepared to declare its neutrality, and is open to compromise over the contested Donbas region. It is, however, demanding security guarantees, and insists Russian troops must withdraw first.

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Until the Russian leader annexed Crimea and started the war in Donbas in 2014, Ukraine was officially a neutral state, says Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun. The clear lack of security guarantees has led support for NATO membership to soar.

Now, she believes, an agreement with Russia will be worthless if it leads to war restarting in a month.

“We have to make realistic deals, where our security will be guaranteed. And right now, we are not getting those from Russians, we’re just getting promises which are not being kept,” she told Euronews.

Watch the interview with Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun in the video player at the top of the article.

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Kyiv's proposals brought some positive response from the Russian side. Vladimir Medinskiy, the head of the Russian delegation at Tuesday's talks, said on Russian television that Moscow sees them as a "step to meet us halfway, a clearly positive fact".

But despite the Russian military's difficulties on the ground, arguably it has time on its side. It has made gains in the south, there is plenty of heavy firepower in reserve, and Putin has shown he has no qualms about killing civilians and flattening cities if necessary to make headway.

There is some hope that Moscow's shift in tactics represents an acceptance that Kyiv cannot be taken militarily. But despite heavy battlefield losses and the damage being done by Western sanctions, there is no sign the Russian president is about to order his troops home.

Putin's allies urge him to continue the war

An opinion poll suggested domestic support for Russia's "special operation" in Ukraine had risen from 68% to 73%, the TASS news agency reported.

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From some of Putin's allies, there is also not just public support for the war, but cynicism over the talks or even outright opposition to them.

"About the talks in Istanbul. Let Ukraine make concessions - that's good," the head of the pro-Kremlin "Just Russia" party, Sergey Mironov, said on Twitter.

"But! The task of denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine must be completed to the end. This is the position of our party and the majority of Russian citizens. And the main result is the complete liberation of the DPR and LPR from the invaders!"

"Denazification and demilitarisation" effectively mean the toppling of the Ukrainian government and the disarming of the country's military.

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The Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, another Putin ally who has been visiting Mariupol, also voiced his hostility to the negotiations.

"We the warriors do not agree with these talks and these agreements, but this is a political will and that's why we have our president, it should be as he says. But we the warriors have no intentions to step back and we ask the head of the state to let us finish what he has started," Kadyrov said on Tuesday.

"We won't stop," he said, until the last of the "nationalists and "terrorists" had been killed or jailed.

This article has been updated.

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Additional sources • AFP

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