Russia to drastically cut military activity after 'constructive' talks, Ukraine offers neutrality

Ukrainian soldiers in front of a destroyed Russian armored personal carrier in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (REUTERS) - Russia has decided to drastically cut military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv in Ukraine, its deputy defence minister said on Tuesday (March 29), after talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams in Istanbul.

Mr Alexander Fomin said the decision was taken in the interest of creating mutual trust and the necessary conditions for further talks to take place.

The General Staff would reveal in more detail the decisions that had been taken after the Russian delegation returned to Moscow, Mr Fomin said.

Ukrainian negotiators at the conflict talks in Turkey said they were calling for an international agreement under which other countries would serve as guarantors of Ukraine's security.

"We want an international mechanism of security guarantees where guarantor countries will act in a similar way to Nato's article number five - and even more firmly," Mr David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian negotiator, told reporters after talks with a Russian delegation.

Poland, Israel, Turkey and Canada are among the potential security guarantors.

Ukraine's proposed neutral status in exchange for security guarantees would mean it would not join military alliances or host military bases, its negotiators said on Tuesday.

The proposals would also include a 15-year consultation period on the status of annexed Crimea and could come into force only in the event of a complete ceasefire, the negotiators told reporters in Istanbul.

The proposals are the most detailed and concrete that Ukraine has aired publicly.

"If we manage to consolidate these key provisions, and for us this is the most fundamental, then Ukraine will be in a position to actually fix its current status as a non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality," said negotiator Oleksander Chaly.

"We will not host foreign military bases on our territory, as well as deploy military contingents on our territory, and we will not enter into military-political alliances," he said, in comments broadcast on Ukrainian national television.

"Military exercises on our territory will take place with the consent of the guarantor countries."

There was enough material in the current Ukrainian proposals to warrant a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian negotiators said, adding they were awaiting Russia's response.

Russian lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said on Tuesday that Kyiv’s proposals to Moscow at talks in Istanbul included one that Russia would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union.

He made the comment in footage broadcast on state television after the talks.

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Russia said the negotiations were "constructive" and the Ukrainian offer would be transmitted to Mr Putin promptly for a response.

Mr Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's chief negotiator, said Moscow is willing to consider a presidential meeting at the same time as a foreign ministers meeting to initial a preliminary deal.

Kyiv has long sought direct talks, while Moscow had resisted committing to Mr Putin's participation.

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators met in Turkey on Tuesday for the first face-to-face talks in nearly three weeks, with Ukraine seeking a ceasefire without compromising on territory or sovereignty as its forces have pushed Russians back from Kyiv.

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