Although Moscow has described its plans to reduce scale in Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill, its ground forces have been swamped and suffered heavy casualties.
KYIV, Ukraine – Russia’s promise to reduce some military operations in Ukraine has led to skepticism, a rare test of the bitter reality of five weeks of optimism that has turned into a bloody war of attrition.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said there was no reason to believe Russia’s announcement that it would reduce military activity near the capital, Kyiv, as well as in the northern city of Chernigov.
“We can call the signals we heard in the talks positive,” he said in a video message to the Ukrainian people at night. “But these signals do not silence the explosion of Russian shells.”
Talks on Tuesday also discussed the framework for ending the war, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and the flight of more than 4 million Ukrainians. Talks were expected to resume on Wednesday, but with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu making “meaningful” progress, the two sides decided to return home for consultations.
At the conference in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation set a framework in which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by a number of other states.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would “substantially suspend military operations in Kyiv and Chernigov in the meantime” in order to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for future talks.”
He did not say what this meant in practice.
The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said the negotiators would convey Ukraine’s proposals to Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Moscow would respond, but did not say when.
Cavusoglu said he expected the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers to meet at an unspecified time. Another issue between the presidents of the two countries was on the agenda. Russia’s state news agency Tass reported that Moscow’s representatives returned to Russia on Tuesday evening.
After a rush of proposals and some silent optimism, Zelensky warned the world and his people not to go ahead. He said Ukrainian troops had forcibly taken Russia’s hand, adding that the occupying army could still carry out attacks because “we must not let go of our gossip.”
“Ukrainians are not naive people,” he said.
The United States and others have also expressed skepticism about Russia’s intentions.
Although Moscow described it as a gesture of goodwill, its ground forces fell into a quagmire and suffered heavy losses in their attempts to seize Kiev and other cities. Last week and on Tuesday, the Kremlin downplayed the war, saying its “main goal” was to seize control of the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“We value the Russian military machine not only in words but also in deeds,” British Deputy Prime Minister Dominique Raab told Sky News on Wednesday. “Obviously, there are some doubts that he will regroup to attack again, rather than seriously engage in diplomacy.”
He added, “Of course, the door to diplomacy will always be open, but I don’t think it’s possible to believe that Putin came out of the mouth of a war machine.”
The British Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that Russia’s focus on Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region “probably acknowledges that it is struggling to maintain more than one important axis of progress.”
“Russian units that suffered heavy losses were forced to reorganize and return to Belarus and Russia for supplies,” the ministry said in a statement. “Such actions put more pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics and demonstrate Russia’s difficulty in reorganizing its units in advanced regions within Ukraine.”
He said the change did not bode well for civilians in cities affected by Russia’s relentless bombardment, and he expected Moscow to “continue to compensate for reduced ground maneuverability with massive artillery and missile strikes.”
When asked by US President Joe Biden whether Russia’s statement was a sign of progress in the talks or an attempt to gain time to continue Moscow’s attack, he replied: “We will see. I don’t read anything until I see what they are doing. “
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that signs of Russia’s withdrawal could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive and distract people.”
It would not be the first time. At a time when the occupation was intensifying, the Russian army said it had loaded equipment from some units into wagons and was preparing to return to its bases after completing the exercises. At the time, Putin showed interest in diplomacy. But 10 days later, Russia began the occupation.
Western officials say Moscow is now stepping up its troops in the Donbas to blockade Ukrainian forces. Russia’s deadly siege of the south continues, with civilians trapped in the ruins of Mariupol and other devastated cities. Recent satellite images from the commercial provider Maxar Technologies show hundreds of people waiting in front of a grocery store amid news of food and water shortages.
“Russia has said it, Russia has done it, and we have focused on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “What Russia is doing is constant atrocities against Ukraine.”
Even as negotiators gathered, Putin’s forces blew up a nine-story government administration building during an attack in the southern port city of Nikolaev, killing at least 12 people, emergency officials said. The search for more bodies under the rubble continued.
“It’s horrible. They waited for people to go to work before they hit the building,” said provincial governor Vitaly Kim. “I slept a lot. I’m lucky.”
A Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the United States had found a small number of Russian ground forces moving away from Kyiv, but that this appeared to be a change in the position of the forces “not a real retreat.”
He said it was too early to say how large the Russian movement would be or where the troops would be stationed.
The meeting in Istanbul was a face-to-face meeting between Russia and Ukraine for the first time in two weeks. Earlier, the talks were held in Belarus in person or via video.
Among other things, the Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine lose all hope of joining NATO.
The Ukrainian delegation offered a detailed framework for a peace agreement that would ensure the security of a neutral Ukraine under a regulation similar to NATO’s “attack” by a group of third countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland. one is an attack on all ”principle.
Ukraine has also said it is ready to negotiate for 15 years on the future of the Crimean peninsula, which was occupied by Russia in 2014.
The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said on Russian television that Ukraine’s proposals were “a step towards meeting us halfway, a clear positive fact.”
He warned that the parties were still far from reaching an agreement, but said: “Now we know how to move towards compromises. We do not just set a time in the negotiations. “
– The Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Northern Macedonia, which appear to be a coordinated movement to combat Russian espionage, have expelled a large number of Russian diplomats.
– The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the security of the country’s nuclear facilities. In 1986, Russian forces took control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and the Zaporozhye plant, where the building was damaged during the fighting.
– Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings inside the country in the war, which lasted more than a month, and most of the damage was concentrated near Kyiv and in the east, the Ukrainian army said.
– In the room of the Istanbul talks was Roman Abramovich, a long-time ally of Putin, who was sanctioned by Britain and the European Union. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the owner of the Chelsea football team was acting as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries. However, the mystery of his role was exacerbated by reports that he may have been poisoned during the previous round of talks.
Karmanau reported from the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to the report.
The Ukraine War: Russia’s skepticism about its promise to withdraw
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