Russia, Ukraine moving closer to agreement on key peace points, Turkey says

Russia and Ukraine “have almost reached agreement” on four critical points of a possible peace deal, Turkey’s foreign minister said, as heavy fighting continued to devastate the key port city of Mariupol.

Mevlut Cavusoglu told pro-government Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that there was growing “convergence” between Moscow and Kyiv after intense diplomacy over the past week.

“On important topics, critical topics, there is convergence between the two sides,” Cavusoglu said. “Especially on the first four points, we see that they have almost reached an agreement.”

Turkey, which is mediating the talks alongside Israel, said Ukraine and Russia had made significant progress on kyiv’s declaration of neutrality and abandoning its bid to join the EU. NATO, the “demilitarization” of Ukraine in exchange for collective security guarantees, what Russia calls “denazification”, and lifting restrictions on the use of Russian in Ukraine.

A possible deal would force Russia to announce a ceasefire and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory to the positions they were in when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24.

A compromise is likely to involve Kyiv making token concessions by banning certain groups or changing the names of streets named after Ukrainian partisans who fought alongside Nazi Germany against the USSR in World War II. , said two people briefed on the talks.

Russia is also likely to ease Ukraine’s demand to make Russian the country’s second official language if kyiv rolls back laws limiting its use, one of the people added.

Ukraine and its Western allies are skeptical of Russia’s motives in the negotiations and fear that Putin is buying time to replenish Moscow’s forces and launch a new offensive.

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the talks were worth continuing even if they had a “1% chance of success” and warned that a failure in negotiations would risk “a third world War”.

“We have demonstrated the dignity of our people and our army. . . But unfortunately, our dignity will not save lives. So I think we have to use any format, any chance, in order to have the opportunity to negotiate,” he said.

He added that Western leaders had told him that Ukraine would not be allowed to join NATO or the EU although “publicly the doors will remain open”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, accused Moscow of not participating fully in the talks. “The negotiations seem to be one-sided,” she said. “The Russians have not considered any possibility of a negotiated and diplomatic solution.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said Russia had used its new hypersonic Kinzhal missiles against civilian areas, in kyiv’s first confirmation that the Kremlin had deployed the missiles in Ukraine for the first time.

Moscow claims to have used the Kinzhal, which Russia claims can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, twice in the past three days: to destroy a fuel depot near Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine and to target an ammunition storage facility in the west of the country.

Russian forces continued their intense assault on Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, whose status is a key sticking point in the talks, according to two people briefed on them.

The Ukrainian armed forces said the situation was “difficult: there is starvation in the city, street fighting, people are trying to leave the city on their own”. Russian forces cut off electricity, heating and food supplies.

Mariupol authorities said Russian forces shelled a school where around 400 residents had taken refuge. A statement broadcast on the city council’s Telegram channel said the building had been destroyed and “civilians are still under the rubble”.

“The information on the number of victims is still being clarified,” he added.

Anna Romanenko, a local journalist who was evacuated from Mariupol but is in contact with sources there, said there was heavy fighting in the center, with Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers under attack by Ukrainian government troops on and around Theater Square, an important landmark. .

“The front now crosses the city,” she said. Large parts of Mariupol were entirely in Russian hands, she said.

Russia publicly stands by Putin’s demands in the early days of the invasion, including vaguely defined calls to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine. Moscow also wants Kyiv to recognize its 2014 annexation of Crimea and the independence of two Russian-backed breakaway territories in the eastern Donbass region.

However, as his invasion stalled, Russia quietly dropped its vow to remove Zelensky and made suggestions to carve the country into Moscow-backed fiefdoms and a rump state.

Ukraine has ruled out making territorial concessions to Russia under any circumstances and said negotiations over areas seized by Moscow before this year would require separate talks between Zelensky and Putin.

Mariupol is a particularly difficult issue because it is part of Ukrainian territory claimed by the separatists.

Putin justified the invasion by saying that Russia is liberating Ukraine from the Nazis, even though Zelensky is Jewish and far-right nationalist groups have little influence in the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told NBC News it was “far too soon” to say whether the peace talks could succeed, but stressed the need to prevent the conflict from becoming “a war between NATO and Russia in Europe”.

US President Joe Biden does not plan to travel to Ukraine during his visit to Europe this week, the White House has said, despite invitations to do so from the Ukrainian government.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a tweet that Biden had “no plans” to visit the country on his trip, which will include his attendance at Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington