Russia’s Commitment To Reduce Its Military Presence In Ukraine Is Met With Scepticism

Russia’s promise to reduce certain military activities in Ukraine has been met with suspicion, even as the two countries prepare to resume negotiations on Wednesday in the hopes of establishing a framework for ending the war that has claimed a rising toll. Given what is presently going on on the ground, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there was no reason to believe Russia’s claim that it will restrict military action near Kyiv, the capital, as well as in the northern city of Chernihiv.

In his nightly video address to the Ukrainian people, he remarked, “We may call those indications that we receive during the negotiations positive.” “However, the indications do not prevent Russian shells from exploding.” It was a sobering reality check five weeks into what has turned into a horrific attrition war, with thousands killed and nearly 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the nation. Ukraine’s team at the Istanbul summit earlier Tuesday put out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and have its security guaranteed by a number of other countries.

The public reaction in Moscow was encouraging, and the talks were set to resume in Istanbul on Wednesday. Moscow has decided to “fundamentally… scale back military activities in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv,” according to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, in order to “build mutual trust and create circumstances for further negotiations.” He didn’t go into detail about what that meant in practice. Ukraine’s military forced Russia’s hand, Zelenskyy said, adding that “we shouldn’t let down our guard” because the invading army can still attack.

Russia’s motives have also been questioned by the US and others. While Moscow depicted it as a show of goodwill, its ground forces have gotten stymied and suffered terrible losses in their attempt to conquer Kyiv and other cities. The Kremlin appeared to reduce its war goals last week and again on Tuesday, saying that the “primary goal” now is winning control of the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. When asked if the Russian announcement was a sign of progress in the discussions or a ploy by Moscow to buy time to continue its assault, US President Joe Biden answered, “We’ll see.” I don’t make any inferences until I see what they’re doing.”

Russian hints of a retreat, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and redirect attention.” This isn’t the first time it’s happened. The Russian military claimed during the tense buildup to the invasion that some units were loading equipment onto train carriages and preparing to return to their home sites after completing drills. Putin was expressing an interest in diplomacy at the time. However, Russia launched an invasion ten days later. Moscow is reportedly beefing up its soldiers in the Donbas in an attempt to encircle Ukraine’s army, according to Western diplomats.

In the south, Russia’s terrible blockade continues, trapping residents in the wreckage of Mariupol and other devastated cities. Hundreds of people were seen waiting outside a grocery store in the newest satellite images from commercial source Maxar Technologies, amid claims of food and water shortages.

“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.” Even while negotiators assembled, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soldiers struck the southern port city of Mykolaiv, destroying a nine-story government office building and killing at least 12 people, according to emergency officials. More victims were discovered in the rubble as the search progressed. “It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before striking the building, said regional governor Vitaliy Kim. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”

Small numbers of Russian ground forces have been spotted moving away from the Kyiv area, according to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, but it appears to be a repositioning of forces, not a true withdrawal. He said it was too early to predict how large the Russian moves would be or where the forces would be moved. “This does not mean that the threat to Kyiv has passed,” Kirby added. “They can still wreak havoc across the country, especially in Kyiv.” According to him, Russian airstrikes on Kyiv have persisted.

“This seems like more of an awareness of the reality around Kyiv, where Russia’s advance has been halted for weeks and Ukrainian forces have achieved recent gains,” said Rob Lee, a military specialist at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. Russia lacks the forces necessary to envelop the city.” The conference in Istanbul was the first face-to-face contact between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in two weeks. Previously, talks were held in person or by video in Belarus.

The Kremlin has demanded, among other things, that Ukraine abandon all hopes of joining NATO. The Ukrainian delegation presented a detailed framework for a peace deal in which the security of a neutral Ukraine would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, China, and Poland, in a similar arrangement to NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle.

Ukraine also stated that it would be open to beginning negotiations on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. The Russian delegation’s head, Vladimir Medinsky, said on Russian television that the Ukrainian offers are a “move to meet us halfway, a clearly positive thing.” He warned that the sides are still far apart in their negotiations, but added, “We now know how to get farther toward compromise.” We’re not just passing the time in meetings.”

“This does not mean the threat to Kyiv is no less present,” Kirby continued. “They’re still capable of wreaking devastation across the country, particularly in Kyiv.” Russian airstrikes on Kyiv, he said, have continued. “This appears to be more of a recognition of the realities around Kyiv, where Russia’s progress has been blocked for weeks and Ukrainian forces have made recent successes,” said Rob Lee, a military researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Russia lacks the requisite forces to encircle the city.”

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In two weeks, the summit in Istanbul was the first face-to-face meeting between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators. Belarus had previously held talks in person or through video. The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine give up all dreams of joining NATO, among other things. The Ukrainian delegation presented a detailed framework for a peace deal in which a group of third countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, China, and Poland, would guarantee the security of a neutral Ukraine, in a similar arrangement to NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle.

Ukraine also announced that it is willing to start talks on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. On Russian television, the chairman of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, said the Ukrainian offers are a “effort to meet us halfway, an obviously positive thing.” He cautioned that the parties’ conversations are still far apart, but said, “We now know how to get farther toward compromise.” We’re not just sitting in meetings to kill time.”

Roman Abramovich, a longtime Putin ally who has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom and the European Union, was in the room for the Istanbul meetings. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, claimed the owner of the Chelsea soccer team has been acting as an unofficial mediator who has been approved by both governments. However, recent allegations that he may have been poisoned during a previous round of meetings have added to the mystery surrounding his role.

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