One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but...
After several hours of talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Ukraine’s chief negotiator David Arakhamia said “we insist that it is an international agreement which will be signed by all the guarantors of security”.
“We want an international mechanism of security guarantees where the guarantor countries will act in a similar way to Chapter 5 of NATO and even more firmly,” he added.
Russia will “fundamentally” cut back operations near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv following “substantial” peace talks in Istanbul. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the move was meant “to increase trust” in talks aimed at ending the fighting.
The talks are to be continued today.
What the Ukrainian side proposed at negotiations
As part of any settlement, Ukraine wants an international agreement to guarantee its security, with potentially several countries signing up to be guarantors.
The negotiators said they had proposed to Russia that Ukraine adopt a neutral status in exchange for security guarantees - an international mechanism where guarantor countries would act to protect Ukraine in future.
In return, Kyiv would not join NATO, a key Russian demand. This was not a new pledge, but it was spelt out in the clearest detail yet.
And they proposed sidestepping some of the thorniest issues, saying security guarantees would “temporarily exclude” the breakaway territories in the eastern Donbas region. They suggested talks over 15 years to resolve the status of Crimea.
“But it is fundamentally important that nothing in the future treaty will deny Ukraine's right to join the European Union. And, secondly, the guarantor countries are committed to facilitating this process,” said Oleksandr Chalyi.
He stressed that negotiations with Russia would continue in the next two weeks. At the same time, Ukraine has already begun consultations with all guarantor countries, and it will soon be possible to invite these countries to participate in multilateral negotiations.
Results of round of talks in the Russian side’s view
Russia is dramatically curtailing its military activity near the Ukraine capital Kyiv and in Chernihiv in an attempt to increase “mutual trust and create conditions required for further negotiations.”
The Russian team suggested that direct talks between President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could take place once both sides had agreed to a draft peace deal — sooner than they had said before.
Ukrainian envoys on Tuesday opened the door to concessions on Russian-controlled Crimea in the south and Donbas in the east. Ukraine proposed a 15-year window to negotiate the status of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and a separate negotiation between Zelenskyy and Putin regarding Donbas, which Russia has declared independent.
What the Americans and Britons believe about talks...
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had not seen anything indicating that talks were progressing in a “constructive way” and suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention”.
Speaking on a visit to Morocco, Blinken said that there was “what Russia says, and what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter. What Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.”
U.S. President Joe Biden intends to discuss the situation in Ukraine with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. For his part, British Premier Boris Johnson said a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine would not be enough to trigger the lifting of British sanctions. He said the pressure on Vladimir Putin must be increased both through further economic measures and providing military aid to ensure Russia changes course completely.
Russian troops pulling out of Kyiv?
While “small numbers” of Russian forces have moved away from Kyiv “in the last day or so,” Russia can still inflict “massive brutality” on the country, including on the capital city.
“We believe that this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. It does not mean the threat to Kyiv is over,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic expel 43 Russian diplomats
In a co-ordinated move, four EU countries are expelling more than 40 Russian diplomats suspected of spying. Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic issued expulsion orders to a total of 43 embassy staffers on Tuesday afternoon.
Twenty-one members of staff at the Russian embassy in Brussels and at the consulate in Antwerp had been asked to leave the country, giving them two weeks to depart.
The move was made in conjunction with Belgium’s neighbor the Netherlands, whose foreign ministry said it was expelling 17 Russian diplomats it considered to be “secretly active” as intelligence officers.
The move follows similar actions taken by other EU members in the past week. On Wednesday, Poland expelled 45 accredited diplomats for engaging in suspected espionage in the country. Earlier this month Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia expelled a total of 20 Russian embassy staffers in connection with activities “contrary to their diplomatic status”.
Russia has tended to respond to such decisions with reciprocal moves, and earlier today announced the expulsion of 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Victory or not yet?
Aleksey Arestovich, adviser to the head of the Presidential Office, considers the offensive of Russian troops on the Kharkov, Kiev and Sumy regions is a failure. “Our forces are already liberating the Sumy region, part of the Kharkov and Kiev regions. Russian columns are leaving from there. This is a failure for them,” Arestovich said.
According to the General Staff, Russia is now withdrawing part of its troops from the Chernigov and Kiev directions. The enemy is regrouping forces for a further attack on the eastern regions.