Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine were held in Istanbul on Tuesday (March 29) with Russia promising to scale down its military operations around Kyiv and northern Ukraine.
The talks, hosted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a palace in Istanbul, came as Russia’s invasion has been halted on most fronts by strong resistance, with Ukrainians recapturing territory in counter-attacks, even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.
The talks were the first face-to-face meeting between the sides since March 10.
Ukraine proposed adopting a neutral status but with international guarantees that it would be protected from attack.
The proposals would include a 15-year consultation period on the status of Russian-annexed Crimea, and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, the negotiators said.
Top Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said he would examine the Ukrainian proposals and report on them to President Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainian negotiators called for a meeting between Putin and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
During the talks an adviser to Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said security guarantees and conditions for a ceasefire to resolve humanitarian problems were being discussed.
Billionaire Roman Abramovich, one of the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, was seen attending the peace talks.
A Presidential television feed showed Abramovich sitting next to Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and listening to President Erdogan’s address to Russian and Ukrainian delegates.
The Kremlin dismissed reports that Abramovich had been poisoned, saying they were untrue and part of an “information war”.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Abramovich was not an official member of the Russian delegation at talks with Ukraine in Turkey, but that he was present at them.
While talks in Istanbul were held, Russia’s defence minister said that Ukraine’s military capacity had been seriously degraded.
Sergei Shoigu, speaking to officials in a televised meeting, also restated that the main tasks of the first phase of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine had been completed.
Military convoys with ‘Z’ markings were seen on a road leading to the Ukraine’s besieged southern port city of Mariupol.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said on Monday (March 28) 160,000 civilians were still trapped in the city on the Sea of Azov without heat and power after weeks of Russian bombardment.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, a missile blasted a hole through the main administrative building. Authorities said at least seven people were killed and 20 injured, including 18 pulled from the rubble by rescue workers.
Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24, denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to agree on safe corridors for trapped civilians.
Russian forces have attacked Ukraine’s southern ports including Kherson, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Mariupol as they try to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea and establish a land corridor from Russia to Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized in 2014.
In an impassioned plea to the Danish parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Europe it must tighten sanctions on Russia, including blocking trade, stopping buying oil and closing ports to Russian ships.
More than a month into the war, the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, more than 3.9 million people have fled abroad, thousands have been killed and injured, and Russia’s economy has been pummelled by sanctions.
Some Ukrainian refugees have decided to make the journey back home to their country where they left their loved ones behind.
Mother of two Yuliya Kuzyk from Kalush in west Ukraine departed on a bus from Warsaw in a bid to return home to her family and friends.
She was one of many who have requested to go back despite the uncertainty over the end of the fighting.