In Peace Talks, Russian Negotiator Commits to Reducing Military Activity Near Kyiv ‘By Multiples’

A member of the Ukrainian forces stands on the front line in Kyiv Region, Ukraine, March 28, 2022. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

A deputy Russian defense minister said during peace talks with a Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul on Tuesday that Russia would “by multiples, reduce military activity” near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

The news came as diplomats from both sides met in Turkey to discuss a potential ceasefire, more than a month after Russia first invaded Ukraine.

“Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of an agreement on the 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 during today’s meeting, by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiation and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing on the signing of the above agreement, a decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kiev and Chernigov direction,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters, according to CNN.

However, in response to the reports that Russia is pulling out of the region near Kyiv, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that U.S. officials believe it is a “repositioning, not a real withdrawal.”

“We should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine,” he added.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the Biden administration has not seen “signs of real seriousness” from Russia in reaching peace, adding that the U.S. remains focused on Russia’s actions, not its words.

“I have not seen anything that suggests that this is moving forward in an effective way… At least we’ve not seen signs of real seriousness, but if Ukraine concludes that there is, that’s good and we support that,” Blinken told reporters during a visit to Morocco.

Russia on Tuesday said it is prepared to fast track the timeline of a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said the Kremlin is prepared to hold a meeting between the two leaders once a draft peace agreement is ready.

During the peace talks, hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian and Russian officials discussed international security guarantees for Ukraine, an aide to Zelensky said, according to the report.

Erdogan told the two sides that “having a ceasefire and peace as soon as possible will be to the benefit of everyone,” adding, “We believe we are in a phase now to have concrete results from the talks.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters that “today and tomorrow we will find out whether there is anything promising” in the talks.

The meeting comes days after Zelensky said Sunday that Ukraine is ready to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia, though the agreement would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelensky said in a video call with Russian journalists, according to several reports.

Ukraine voted in 2014 to abandon its “neutral status” and seek NATO membership after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.

Zelensky said no peace deal would be possible without a ceasefire and troop withdrawals and also declined to discuss several other Russian demands, including the demilitarization of the country.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian officials outlined potential concessions on territory occupied by Russia, according to the New York Times. For the first time, officials proposed to negotiate about the status of Crimea over 15 years.

Discussions regarding the future of the eastern areas that Russia no longer recognizes as part of Ukraine could occur between Putin and Zelensky, an aide to the Ukrainian president said.

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