Ukraine-Russia negotiations in Istanbul raise optimism

The statements by the two sides, after hours of negotiations in an ornate palace on the Bosphorus hosted by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were a rare moment of optimism – if not a breakthrough – after weeks of stalled negotiations that did nothing to do so. Slow down the escalating bloody conflict in Ukraine.

Central to the Ukrainian proposal was a pledge to maintain the kind of military neutrality Moscow seeks, in exchange for a security system for Ukraine guaranteed by international partners including the United States, Turkey and others. Ukrainian negotiators likened the offer to Article 5 of the NATO charter, which guarantees the alliance’s collective defense.

The negotiators said the guarantor parties – including European countries, Canada and Israel – would provide Ukraine with military assistance and weapons if it was attacked. Ukraine, in turn, will ensure that it remains “non-aligned and non-nuclear,” although it will reserve the right to join the European Union.

The Ukrainian proposal also offered a 15-year timetable for negotiations with Russia over the status of the Ukrainian peninsula, Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s chief negotiator, described the talks to reporters afterwards as “a substantive conversation.” “The most important progress since the start of negotiations has been made today,” said Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister.

The reactions of the United States were mixed. Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken expressed skepticism about the talks in Turkey, saying that the continuation of Moscow’s military offensive leaves little room for optimism. “There is what Russia is saying and what Russia is doing: we are focusing on the latter, and what Russia is doing is violating Ukraine and its people,” Blinken said during a joint press conference with his Moroccan counterpart in Rabat. Moroccan capital.

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But the top Pentagon general who oversees US forces in Europe said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that there was evidence of “shifting dynamics” on the ground near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and appeared to confirm that some Russian forces in the region were pulling back.

The change in the Russian position comes after Ukrainian forces launched an offensive in several parts of the country. Ukrainian officials said on Monday they had retaken Erbin, a suburb of Kyiv.

In Istanbul, delegations of Ukraine and Russia in convoys arrived at Dolmabahce Palace around 9 am local time. Erdogan, addressing the delegates, expressed his hope that the negotiations would lead to a ceasefire, and said: “The whole world is waiting for good and good news from you.” Turkey, which relies on close relations with both Moscow and Kiev for many reasons including economic, has pushed itself into the middle of negotiations to stop the war.

Ahead of Tuesday’s talks, Russia and Ukraine sought to quell hopes of a breakthrough, then high-level negotiations In southwest Turkey this month and weeks From Conversations via video link He failed to reach an agreement. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told local media on Monday that Kyiv’s goal – at best – is a “sustainable” ceasefire. Meanwhile, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow should “stop indulging” in Kyiv.

Outside the palace, international journalists were barred from entering the conference room, cramped cramped on a narrow pier, perched on laptops in the bushes, and watched convoys of delegates roll by while waiting for the news’ shuffles. Inside the hall, seeing Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch facing sanctions in Europe, added to the intrigue surrounding the proceedings: The day before, an Abramovich aide said the oligarch suspected he had been poisoned in a previous round of talks, along with members of the Ukrainian delegation.

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The Kremlin denied any connection to the alleged incident. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed that on Tuesday in a conference call with reporters, calling it “part of media sabotage” for the West. But in comments to a Ukrainian news channel, Kuleba advised anyone in the negotiations “not to eat or drink anything, and preferably to avoid touching any surface.”

Speaking to reporters early Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian delegates said that any deal struck with Moscow would be subject to a popular referendum. They said some thorny issues, including the status of the Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia, would have to be resolved by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

But Ukrainian negotiators indicated on Tuesday that today’s events offered a potential way forward. Oleksandr Chali, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, said that talks with Russia will continue in the next two weeks. He said that consultations have already begun with the guarantor countries, which may be invited to send representatives to the upcoming negotiations.

After the Ukrainian and Russian leaders reached a “final agreement”, Chali said, they will hold a multilateral conference, where an agreement will be signed. He said that “senior officials from the guarantor countries” will participate in the conference.

Stern reporter from Mukachevo, Ukraine, and Lammoth from Washington. John Hudson in Rabat, Morocco, and Annabel Timsit and Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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