Update(0943): State media is reporting that Russia’s lead negotiator after coming off Tuesday’s “constructive” talks in Istanbul is saying that “Kiev has essentially agreed” to Moscow’s key demands of not joining NATO or allowing foreign bases and troops on its soil.
“Ukrainian negotiators have essentially agreed to Russia’s principle security demands of rejecting NATO membership and regarding the presence of foreign military bases on its territory,” the Kremlin’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky has said. In the statement he noted further that Ukraine has “stated willingness to meet core Russian demands.” He said further while speaking to Rossiya-24 broadcaster on Wednesday:
“Yesterday, for the first time…the authorities in Kiev have declared their readiness to negotiate with Russia. They handed us on paper the principles of a possible future agreement, which provides for: a rejection of entry into NATO, fixing Ukraine’s bloc-free status, a renunciation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”
At the same time on Wednesday there appears to be more positive signals coming from the Ukrainian side, with its negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak saying that while a peace deal with Russia is in the works, it would only be put up for a national referendum after Russia withdraws all troops to their pre-invasion Feb.23rd positions. But this is a huge if – given it’s impossible to predict anything in terms of the on-the-ground battle or the Russian military’s intent.
“We have seen the Russians begin to draw away from Kyiv. But we have little confidence at this stage that it marks some significant shift or a meaningful retreat,” a US official told us. https://t.co/eoP9ayDm3u
— James Politi (@JamesPoliti) March 29, 2022
But for now, there indeed appears a long road ahead before a full and final ceasefire can be realized, given the continuing battlefield situation:
- UKRAINE DEFENCE MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES ARE PREPARING TO RESUME OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS
- UKRAINE DEFENCE MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON – RUSSIA’S MAIN EFFORTS ARE FOCUSED ON ENCIRCLING UKRAINIAN TROOPS IN THE EAST OF UKRAINE
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Russian attacks and shelling have reportedly continued near Kiev and the Chernihiv, following Tuesday’s Kremlin declaration that it would draw down some units in these areas coming off negotiations with Ukraine in Istanbul, something met with skepticism by NATO and the Pentagon.
The Kremlin further cited “no breakthroughs” from the talks after a draft ceasefire deal was said to be on the table, and amid generally positive international headlines and market reaction. A statement said additionally that “much work remains”. The US had called observed troop removals near Kiev a tactical redeployment and not in truth de-escalation.
According to Bloomberg citing a Russian source: “De-escalation does not mean a cease-fire or complete withdrawal of troops from around Kyiv, said a person close to the Kremlin.” The report says further, “Moscow’s likely war goals now are to take two eastern provinces, together with a land corridor from the Russian border to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, the person said.”
Speaking of Crimea, the Ukrainian delegation for the first time offered to speak about this in negotiations, but in a further complication for any final ceasefire, the Russians have shut the door on this as a key bargaining element.
“Crimea is part of the Russian Federation. And in line with our constitution we cannot discuss the future of the territory of the Russian Federation, the future of Russian regions. This is out of the question,” Kremlin spokesman Peskov clarified Wednesday.
“It is positive that the Ukrainian side has at least begun to formulate concretely and put down on paper what it proposes,” Peskov described of Tuesday’s Turkey-sponsored negotiations. “As for the rest, we cannot yet state anything promising, no breakthroughs. Lots of work ahead.”
Meanwhile, on the ground it doesn’t appear any major changes in Russian military posture have been effected, with the major northern city of Chernihiv coming under “colossal attack” overnight and into Wednesday, according to the words of the mayor, as CNN details:
His words came as it emerged that the city was “under fire” from Russian airstrikes while shelling continued through the night, according to Viacheslav Chaus, head of the Chernihiv regional administration.
In an interview with New Day’s John Berman, the city’s mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko hit out at Russia’s claim on Tuesday that it planned to “drastically reduce” its military assault on Chernihiv and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has also confirmed that it’s witnessing what it called a “regrouping” and not a withdrawal.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 29, 2022
“According to some indications, the Russian enemy is regrouping units to focus its main efforts on the east. At the same time, the so-called ‘withdrawal of troops’ is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead” the military said in a Facebook post.
And more, pertaining to ongoing fighting around Kiev:
“After their statements yesterday nothing has changed at all,” Maryan Zablotskyy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who got his wife and child out of Kyiv, told Fox News Digital. “Fighting [continued] all through the night around Kyiv.”
“They are forced to retreat from different areas around Kyiv,” Zablotskyy noted, “but only if they are successfully pushed back.”
1/ Big Arrow War—a primer. For all those scratching their heads in confusion, or dusting off their dress uniforms for the Ukrainian victory parade in Kiev, over the news about Russia’s “strategic shift”, you might want to re-familiarize yourself with basic military concepts.
— Scott Ritter (@RealScottRitter) March 29, 2022
Additionally Bloomberg has cited a Moscow-based military analyst and consultant, Evgeny Minchenko, who points out, “I think there was very serious misunderstanding of what both sides said in Istanbul after the talks.” He added: “So far I just heard is that there will be less action near Kyiv and Chernihiv, because the Russian army is concentrating its resources against the Ukrainian army in Donbas.”