Russia’s promise to reduce certain military activities in Ukraine has been met with suspicion, even as the two countries prepare to resume negotiations on Wednesday in the hopes of establishing a framework for resolving the war that has claimed a rising toll.
Given the situation on the ground, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there was no reason to accept Russia’s promise that it will cease military action in Kyiv, the capital, and Chernihiv, in the north.
In his nightly video message to the Ukrainian people, he remarked, “We may call such indications that we receive during the discussions good.” “However, the indications do not prevent Russian shells from exploding.”
It was a sobering reality check five weeks into what has turned into a horrific attrition war, with thousands killed and almost 4 million Ukrainians leaving the nation.
Ukraine’s team at the Istanbul summit earlier Tuesday put out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and have its security guaranteed by a number of other countries.
The public reaction in Moscow was encouraging, and the talks were set to resume on Wednesday.
Moscow has decided to “fundamentally… scale back military activities in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv,” according to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, in order to “build mutual confidence and create circumstances for future discussions.”
He didn’t go into detail about what that meant in practice.
Ukraine’s military have pressed Russia’s hand, Zelenskyy said, adding that “we shouldn’t let down our guard” since the invading army may still attack.
“Ukrainians are not naive,” he asserted. “Ukrainians have already learnt that only concrete outcomes can be trusted after 34 days of invasion and eight years of conflict in the Donbas.”
Russia’s motives have also been questioned by the US and others.
While Moscow depicted it as a show of goodwill, its ground forces have been slowed and have suffered terrible losses in their attempts to conquer Kyiv and other cities. The Kremlin appeared to reduce its war ambitions last week and again on Tuesday, stating its “primary goal” is seizing control of the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas area in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s declaration of a concentration on Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas area, according to the British Ministry of Defense, “is likely a tacit acknowledgement that it is failing to sustain more than one key axis of progress.”
“Russian forces that have suffered substantial losses have been obliged to return to Belarus and Russia to regroup and resupply,” the ministry stated. “Such action adds to Russia’s already strained logistics and indicates the problems Russia is facing reorganizing its soldiers in Ukraine’s front areas.”
It did caution, however, that the change is unlikely to bring comfort to residents in Russian-bombed cities, as Moscow would “continue to compensate for its limited ground mobility capacity by mass artillery and missile attacks,” according to the report.
“We’ll see,” President Joe Biden said when asked if the Russian declaration was a sign of progress in the discussions or a ploy by Moscow to gain time before continuing its offensive. I don’t make any inferences until I see what they’re doing.”
Russian hints of a retreat, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, might be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and redirect attention.”
This isn’t the first time it’s happened. The Russian military claimed during the tense buildup to the invasion that some troops were putting equipment onto train carriages and ready to return to their home sites after completing drills. Putin was expressing an interest in diplomacy at the time. However, Russia launched an invasion ten days later.
Moscow is reportedly beefing up its soldiers in the Donbas in an attempt to surround Ukraine’s army, according to Western diplomats. In the south, Russia’s brutal siege continues, trapping residents in the wreckage of Mariupol and other damaged cities. Hundreds of people were seen queuing outside a grocery shop in the newest satellite images from commercial source Maxar Technologies, amid claims of food and water shortages.
“There’s what Russia says and what Russia does, and we’re focusing on the latter,” Blinken told reporters in Morocco. “What Russia is doing now is continuing to brutalize Ukraine.”
Even while negotiators assembled, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soldiers struck the southern port city of Mykolaiv, destroying a nine-story government office building and killing at least 12 people, according to emergency officials. More victims were discovered in the wreckage as the search progressed.
“It’s a disaster. Before assaulting the building, they “waited for people to go to work,” according to regional governor Vitaliy Kim. “I slept in too late. “I’m fortunate.”
Small numbers of Russian ground forces have been spotted moving away from the Kyiv region, according to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, but it appears to be a repositioning of forces, not a true withdrawal.
He said it was too early to predict how large the Russian moves would be or where the forces would be moved.
“This does not imply that the threat to Kyiv has passed,” Kirby added. “They may still wreak havoc across the country, especially in Kyiv.”
The conference in Istanbul was the first face-to-face contact between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in two weeks. Previously, discussions were done in person or by video in Belarus.
The Kremlin has demanded, among other things, that Ukraine abandon all hopes of joining NATO.
The Ukrainian delegation presented a detailed framework for a peace deal in which the security of a neutral Ukraine would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, China, and Poland, in a similar arrangement to NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle.
Ukraine also stated that it would be open to begin negotiations on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
The Russian delegation’s chairman, Vladimir Medinsky, stated on Russian television that the Ukrainian offers are a “move to meet us halfway, a clearly good thing.”
He warned that the sides are still far apart in their negotiations, but added, “We now know how to get farther toward compromise.” We’re not just passing the time in meetings.”