Russia promised to reduce fighting around Kyiv and the second major city following peace talks on Tuesday that Ukrainian leaders said showed “positive” signs, but Western allies clarified their doubts over Moscow’s intentions.
The filtered details of the talks in Istanbul raise hope after more than a month of war that has left thousands dead and millions homeless.
Kyiv negotiator David Arahamia said there were “sufficient” conditions for President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet in a bid to end Europe’s worst conflict in decades.
On the Russian side, chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky described the talks as “meaningful”, while the country’s deputy defense minister, Alexander Fomin, reported progress on Ukraine’s “neutral and non -nuclear status” – two of Russia’s main concerns.
Russia, Fomin said, has decided to “radically, several times reduce military activity” around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernigiv.
Zelensky himself voiced cautious confidence after the day’s talks-though he said the “positive” signal “did not drown Russian explosives or bullets” and vowed in a video speech late Tuesday to continue defensive efforts.
But the United States raised clear doubts over Moscow’s words, and vowed with Western power partners to continue to “raise costs” on Russia.
And by Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian general staff – while confirming Russian units withdrawing from the Kyiv and Chernigiv regions – said most likely the military rotation was intended to “confuse” the Ukrainian army.
On the ground in the capital, air raid sirens were heard sounding until late at night, with residents being directed to shelters.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, the death toll continues to rise, with at least 12 people killed by Russian missiles south of Mykolaiv-adding to Zelensky’s estimated toll total of 20,000 so far.
The attack was planned elsewhere?
Strengthening Ukraine’s assessment, U.S. officials said that although a small number of Russian troops did indeed retreat from Kyiv, most remained.
“We are not prepared to call this a retreat or a withdrawal,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, warning “massive attacks” are likely to occur in other areas of Ukraine and the threat to Kyiv is not over.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman echoed the message, saying: “We will judge Putin and his regime by his actions and not by his words”.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Johnson and the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, jointly vowing not to give up on the strong economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.
“We’ll see if they follow what they propose,” Biden told reporters after the call, when asked if he believed Russia was just trying to buy time.
Signals from Tuesday’s talks remained causing European and U.S. stock markets to rise, while oil prices fell five percent as supply concerns eased, and the ruble jumped 10 percent against the dollar.
‘Oops, then a blast’
Last weekend Moscow had already signaled that it was redialing its war goals, focusing its military resources on capturing the eastern Donbas region.
The Pentagon assesses that Russia greatly underestimated Ukrainian resistance, and that its attacks have ceased near Kyiv and other cities.
In recent days, Ukrainian fighters have recaptured the strategic city of Kyiv in Irpin, and pushed Russian troops from around Mykolaiv.
But on Tuesday a Russian missile attack on a government building in the southern city left at least 12 dead and 33 injured, Ukrainian officials said.
“I was having breakfast in my apartment,” Donald, 69, a retired Canadian postal worker with a Ukrainian resident told AFP. “I heard a bang, then an explosion and my windows shook.”
Another local, Viktor Gaivonenko, who helped clean up the debris, said: “Putin is a bastard. That’s all there is”.
‘Crimes against humanity’
While Ukrainian troops counterattacked in the north, they struggled to maintain control of the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.
The Russian army has besieged the city and carried out continuous and indiscriminate bombings, trapping about 160,000 people with little food, water or medicine.
At least 5,000 people there have died, and the total could reach 10,000, according to a senior Ukrainian official.
France, Greece and Turkey hope to launch a massive evacuation of civilians from Mariupol in a few days, but French President Emmanuel Macron, after speaking with Putin Tuesday, said the conditions for the operation have not been met.
Calling the siege of Mariupol a “crime against humanity” that took place “before the eyes of the whole planet in real time”, Zelensky urged the allies to maintain sanctions on Moscow “until this war is over.”
In the latest round of diplomatic deportations, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands on Tuesday announced a total of 42 diplomats would be told to leave.
Responding to tit-for-tat, Moscow said it had expelled 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
And it reiterated that it would only accept payments in rubles for gas shipments to the European Union – after G7 ministers called the arrangement “unacceptable”.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)