Ukrainian and Russian negotiators sat face to face in Turkey on Tuesday for the first time in weeks and resumed direct talksThe government is hoping for a ceasefire after more than a month of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion. There appeared to be tangible progress, with Russia saying it would “drastically reduce” its offensive around Kyiv and another city “to boost mutual trust” and allow talks to continue.
Ukrainian officials have been pushing for a ceasefire deal to allow thousands of civilians to flee besieged cities still bombed by Russian forces.
Emerging from Tuesday’s talks, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said his country had received “a clearly articulated position from Ukraine” and “the possibility of making peace will come closer” as both sides continue to work quickly to find compromises to achieve.
Ukrainian negotiators also hinted at some progress as both sides try to work out mutual “security guarantees”.
David Arahamia, one of Ukraine’s negotiators, declared a “first victory” by merely shifting the venue from Belarus, a Russian ally on Ukraine’s northern border, to Turkey. “We see Turkey as one of our guarantee countries for Ukraine’s security.”
But the most significant statement after Tuesday’s talks came from Moscow, where the defense ministry issued a statement saying it would “reduce military activity” to “create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.”
Ukraine’s leadership has made it clear since last week that it is willing to accept formal neutral status for the country, rule out NATO membership and accept some restrictions on its military in exchange for an end to the war.
“Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of the treaty on neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine, are moving into practice, taking into account the principles discussed at today’s meeting , from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation – in order to strengthen mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achievement of the ultimate goal … it was decided to radically reduce military activities in Kyiv and Chernihiv at times,” said Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin.
It was not clear to what extent the Russian military would reduce its artillery fire on the Kyiv suburbs and the decimated city of Chernihiv near the Russian border, but it was the first time Moscow gave any indication that it would reduce the intensity of its artillery fire “military special operation” since beginning on February 24th.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said it will now focus its efforts on eastern Ukraine to ensure the “independence” of two breakaway regions held by Moscow-backed separatist fighters.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the round of talks between Russia and Ukraine in his country had brought “the most significant progress yet” towards ending the war, but his US counterpart, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, was more cautious.
“I would leave it to our Ukrainian partners to characterize whether there is real progress and whether Russia is meaningfully engaging,” Blinken told reporters on Tuesday. “What I can say is this: there is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We focus on the latter. And what Russia is doing is continuing to brutalize Ukraine and her people. And that continues as we speak.”
While the Russian Defense Ministry blamed the change in tactics on the peace talks, a former Ukrainian ambassador told BBC News that he believed Russia was being forced to accept the realities on the ground.
“Perhaps they realize that they do not win this war and never will win it,” said former Ambassador of Ukraine to Austria, Dr. Olexander Scherba, the BBC after Tuesday’s negotiations. “We know what we’re fighting for, the Russians don’t.”
CBS News senior foreign correspondent Holly Williams reports that Putin’s ground forces have been delayed for weeks in their advance towards Kyiv and other cities, suffering heavy casualties. According to a NATO official, up to 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed in just over a month of fighting.
Unable to advance due to logistical failures and strong Ukrainian resistance, Russia has resorted to a war of attrition, bombarding cities from afar with missiles and artillery.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Monday evening that Russia’s “ruthless war against our nation” had killed at least 143 children.
He commended Ukraine’s defense forces for refusing to let Russian troops take Kyiv and said they would even oust Putin’s military from some towns it had captured near the capital.
“Our defenders are advancing in the Kyiv region and are returning control of Ukrainian territory,” said Zelenskyy. “The occupiers are being pushed away from Irpin, from Kyiv. However, it is too early to talk about security in this part of the region. Fighting continues.”
Williams and her team saw firsthand this week that the advance of Ukrainian troops does not guarantee safety for people living in cities retaken from Russia.
Williams was traveling with Ukrainian forces when they drove on the road towards the town of Makariv, some 40 miles west of Kyiv, on Monday. Ukraine said its forces retook Makariv last week, but as they closed in Ukrainian forces spotted Russian drones flying overhead.
It was a tense situation. Twice the convoy left their vehicles at the side of the road and sought cover. Shells banged nearby.
Williams said it was clear that Ukraine’s struggle for freedom could be long and dangerous.