Russia promised on Tuesday to scale down military operations around Kyiv and another city but the United States warned the threat was not over as Ukraine proposed adopting a neutral status in a sign of progress at face-to-face negotiations.
Talks took place in an Istanbul palace more than a month into the largest attack on a European nation since World War Two that has killed or injured thousands, forced nearly 4 million to flee abroad and pummelled Russia’s economy with sanctions.
Russia’s invasion has been halted on most fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.
“A decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters on Tuesday.
He made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.
Russia has started moving very small numbers of troops away from positions around Kyiv in a move that is more of a repositioning than a retreat or a withdrawal from the war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
“It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over,” spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.
A total of 10 U.S. F-18 aircraft and more than 200 troops are being deployed to NATO member and Russian neighbour, Lithuania, and U.S. troops in Poland are “liaising” with Ukrainian forces as they hand over weapons to them, he added.
Russia calls its assault a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. The West says it launched an unprovoked invasion.
Some analysts noted that Russia’s promise to reduce fighting mostly covered areas where it has been losing ground.
“Does ‘we’ll drastically reduce military operations around Kyiv’ = ‘we’re getting our ass kicked, transitioned to a hasty defense?'” tweeted Mark Hertling, a retired U.S. lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. forces in Europe.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said only a concrete result from the talks can be trusted.
“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said.