War in Ukraine: West cautious on Russian plan to de-escalate near Kyiv

Ukrainian negotiators at talks in Istanbul flag territorial concessions for first time

Western officials have responded cautiously to a Russian proposal to scale back “dramatically” its military action around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

In their first meeting with Russian officials in almost three weeks, Ukrainian negotiators at talks in Istanbul flagged territorial concessions for the first time.

In what Russian officials described as "meaningful" negotiations, deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow would "create the necessary conditions for future negotiations" by "reducing dramatically military activities in the directions of Kyiv and Chernihiv", 150km north of the capital.

Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said Moscow's proposals were "not a ceasefire" but an attempt "gradually to reach a de-escalation of the conflict" and "increase mutual trust".


As well as talks on a temporary ceasefire to allow for humanitarian corridors, Ukraine said it would undertake steps to remain permanently neutral and non-aligned – a key aim of Russia's invasion.

Ukrainian negotiator Oleskandr Chaly said the offer on Tuesday would legally “fix” his country, in a series of international agreements, as a “non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality”.

Ukraine also proposed a 15-year consultation on Crimea, indicating that Kyiv accepts it has lost the peninsula permanently to Russia.

Eastern regions

As part of any peace settlement, the Russian and Ukrainian presidents would meet to discuss the future of eastern regions of Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the next step would be a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers to "shape" the understanding reached on Tuesday.

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that "the occupiers are pushed away from Irpin . . . from Kyiv".

“But it is too early to talk about security in this part of our country, the fighting continues,” he said.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken gave a wary response, saying "there is what Russia says and there's what Russia does". US president Joe Biden said of the Russian claim of de-escalation: "We'll see."

The White House said Mr Biden and key European leaders had “affirmed their determination to continue raising costs on Russia for its brutal attacks in Ukraine”.

It said the US and leaders in the UK, Germany, France and Italy had also agreed at talks on Tuesday to “continue supplying Ukraine with security assistance to defend itself. The White House ... also reviewed their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions affected by the violence, both inside Ukraine and seeking refuge in other countries, and underscored the need for humanitarian access to civilians in Mariupol”.

In Europe, observers are watching closely to see if Russia’s refocus on the east constitutes a true retreat from the invasion’s initial, larger aims, or whether it is a chance to regroup and pursue them at a later point.

On Monday night Russian missiles struck an oil depot in the northwest region of Rivne and, on Tuesday, a government building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

After 34 days of war, Ukraine issued a list on Tuesday estimating Russia has lost 17,200 lives, 2,300 tanks and armoured vehicles and 256 aircraft.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times