(NEW YORK) — The first face-to-face peace talks in more than two weeks between Ukraine and Russia concluded after five hours on Tuesday in Turkey with both sides reporting progress in the negotiations.
In an unexpected move, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Alexander Fomin told reporters following Tuesday’s talks that Russia’s military activity is being dramatically curtailed near the Ukraine capital Kyiv and in Chernihiv in an attempt to increase “mutual trust and create conditions required for further negotiations.”
Formin said the “ultimate goal” of the talks is reaching a peace treaty.
Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said Tuesday’s talks were “constructive.”
“We have received proposals from Ukraine to consider their clearly formulated position on inclusion in the treaty,” Medinsky told reporters following the session.
Ukrainian negotiator Alexander Chaly said the next talks in about two weeks could involve other countries in the negotiation process.
David Arakhamia, another Ukrainian negotiator, added, “We believe that enough material has already been developed to involve the presidents of Ukraine and Russia in the talks.”
Medinsky noted that Tuesday’s “substantive conversation” could clear the way for a meeting between the heads of state.
“The proposed format is like this: first an agreement will be drafted, then the agreement will be approved by the negotiators and signed by the foreign ministers at a meeting, and then the possibility of a meeting between the heads of state will be discussed in order to sign this agreement,” Medinsky said.
The in-person talks were held in Istanbul and Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan addressed the opposing parties before the negotiation session started.
“It is in the hands of the parties to stop this tragedy,” Erdogan said in his opening remarks, which were carried live on Russian TV.
Erdogan said Turkey sees both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as “valuable friends.”
Also participating in the negotiations was Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian oligarch whose assets have been frozen by sanctions imposed by the West due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Previous in-person peace talks have been held in Belarus and representatives of both parties have also been communicating via video conferencing.
Russia initially only presented Ukraine with ultimatums but has changed its strategy as its troops have met tough resistance from Ukrainian forces, which have managed to re-take some towns and villages.
Prior to Fomin’s announcement that Russia was de-escalating its military activities in Kyiv and Chernihiv, a U.S. defense official said Monday that Russian troops around Kyiv have stopped making advances toward the city, though they continue using long-range fires. Russian troops remain 15-20 miles north/northwest of the city and about 35 miles east.
“Static situation on the ground there, except for the fact that we continue to see Ukrainians defend the city and try to push Russians back as well,” the U.S. official said on Monday.
Before Tuesday’s negotiations, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned the Ukrainian delegation to be on guard for sabotage, including poisoning.
“I advise to everyone who’s going to any negotiations with Russia, not to eat or drink anything, and also not to touch any surfaces,” Kuleba said.
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