Russia has pledged to de-escalate its aggression in parts of Ukraine, as officials for both countries met for another round of peace talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Multiple outlets reported Tuesday that talks made some progress, as the two sides met for face-to-face peace talks in Istanbul, more than a month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to the New York Times, the Ukrainian delegation told the Russian delegation that it was willing to declare itself “permanently neutral” between Russia and NATO, meaning that it would not join NATO or host foreign troops on its soil, and was willing to discuss Russian territorial claims in Ukraine, provided they were given certain “security guarantees.” Reuters notes that those guarantees would be similar to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, and could potentially involve countries including Israel, Canada, the United States, Poland, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Italy. Ukraine also included a proposal that Russia would not oppose Ukraine being admitted into the European Union.
The proposals would require a referendum in Ukraine, and “mentioned a 15-year consultation period on the status of Crimea,” Reuters reported.
For its part, Russia claimed that it would de-escalate its attacks on the capital city of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, in order to “increase mutual trust.”
“[The] Russian Defense Ministry has decided to decrease its military activity in the areas of Kyiv and Chernihiv drastically in order to increase mutual trust and create conditions required for further negotiations and for achieving the ultimate goal of reaching an agreement on and signing of the aforementioned treaty,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Alexander Fomin said, via ABC News.
U.S. officials were skeptical that Russia would follow through on its commitments.
“Has there been some movement by some Russian units away from Kyiv in the last day or so? Yeah, we think so, small numbers,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing Tuesday, but added that “[The Pentagon believes] this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal.”
Kirby also noted that “the Russians themselves have said in the same breath they’re saying they’re withdrawing that they’re that they’re reprioritizing the Donbas area, eastern Ukraine.”
When asked by a reporter what he thought about Russia’s promise, President Joe Biden also expressed skepticism. “We’ll see. I don’t read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through on what they’re suggesting,” Biden said.
But officials on both sides are not standing down. “This is not a ceasefire but this is our aspiration, gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict at least on these fronts,” Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian delegation, said via Reuters. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine was not lowering its defenses. “We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” Zelensky said in an address to the nation late Tuesday night, via Reuters. “[The] situation has not become easier … the Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state. Therefore we are not reducing our defensive efforts.”
Still, both sides called the negotiations “constructive.” Medinsky called the talks “a constructive step in the search for a compromise,” the New York Times reported. “The Russian delegation is constructive,” Ukrainian delegation member Mykhailo Podolyak said, but added that talks were still “difficult.”