The meetings between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations held this Tuesday in Istanbul have concluded with progress and open the door to a possible agreement. The Russian side has defined them as “constructive”. His Deputy Defense Minister, Alexander Fomin, has announced that, in response to progress, Moscow has decided to “reduce military operations” in the kyiv and Chernigov areas. The negotiation team sent by the government of Volodymyr Zelensky has stated at the end of four hours of talks that Ukraine would seal its neutrality and, therefore, refuse to enter the Atlantic Alliance, as President Vladimir Putin demands, provided that kyiv has security guarantees in their territories, not including the demilitarization of the occupied regions, the Crimean peninsula and Donbas. One of the spokesmen for the Ukrainian delegation, Mikhailo Podolyak, told the press at the end of the meeting that “the results achieved today are sufficient for a meeting to be held at the leadership level”, that is, between Presidents Putin and Zelenski, something that Turkey, host of the meeting, has been insisting on for weeks. The head of the Russian team has added that this summit would only be possible if the foreign ministers of both countries previously sign an agreement.
The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. local time (one hour less in mainland Spain), with a reception by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who urged both delegations to live up to their “historic mission” achieve “a just peace” for both parties. After an hour and a half meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian heads of delegation, the entire negotiating teams (including government, parliamentary and military representatives) met for about three more hours, with breaks in between. Negotiations are scheduled to continue tomorrow, Wednesday.
The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged the representatives of kyiv and Moscow before the negotiations to act “responsibly” and agree on a ceasefire. “With a sense of responsibility, I am sure that they can reach a permanent ceasefire,” Erdogan said in a speech addressed to delegates from both parties at the Presidential Office of the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, according to the Efe news agency. The president also expressed his confidence that today’s and tomorrow’s meeting will open the way for a meeting at the level of heads of government. “We believe that there are no losers from a just and equitable peace. The continuation of the war is not to the liking of any of the parties and an immediate ceasefire would benefit all”, stressed the Turkish president in his televised address.
Implicitly alluding to the daily fighting since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, Erdogan considered that the time had come for the fire to cease “as soon as possible.” “Everyone is waiting for good news from you,” he insisted after recalling his and his government’s efforts to mediate between the parties in order to achieve a solution that would put an end to the fighting.
So far, the two parties have met in person three times on Belarusian territory, while on the 10th the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov and Dmitro Kuleba, respectively, met unsuccessfully in Antalya. Since then, negotiations have taken place practically daily in videoconference format at the level of the two delegations and working groups.
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The furthest points in the negotiation between the two sides would be the status of Crimea, which Moscow demands to see recognized as part of its territory, and Donbas, which the Kremlin wants to achieve independence from Ukraine or be annexed to Russia. However, the head of Ukrainian diplomacy lowered expectations and said that, on the points mentioned by Erdogan, “consensus has not been achieved” with Russia.
“Security and neutrality guarantees, non-nuclear status for our country. We are ready for it”, Zelensky had said in an interview with several Russian independent media such as jellyfish or Kommersant issued this sunday. He also assured that he is ready for a “compromise” on Donbas, the region partially controlled by pro-Russian rebels since 2014 and that Moscow has now become the main objective of the invasion.
“I understand that it is impossible to force Russia to liberate the territory completely, that would lead to the third world war. That’s why I say: it’s a compromise. return to [las posiciones] in which it started and we will try to solve the Donbas issue, the difficult issue of Donbas”, affirmed the Ukrainian leader: “I want to end this war. I don’t want to have hundreds of thousands dead. So I am not planning to attack by force neither in Donbas nor in Crimea. Because I understand that many thousands of our people would die.”
The change of venue for the negotiations by Turkey, something that the Ukrainian side had sought given the increasing involvement of Belarus in the Russian war campaign, was decided over the weekend after several Turkish efforts. Erdogan telephoned Zelensky on Friday, and later certified that there had been “progress” in the negotiating positions. On Sunday, he spoke by phone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whom he convinced to move the negotiations to Istanbul.
Turkey, despite being one of the oldest members of NATO, is the only country in the Alliance that has not supported the sanctions against Russia. “We cannot break the bridges with Moscow, otherwise who will talk to them? We have decided to keep the channels open”, said the Turkish presidential spokesman on Monday, while explaining that his country is in permanent contact with its Atlantic partners to inform them of the progress of the mediation between Ukraine and Russia.