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Ukrainian, Russian Delegations Send Positive Messages After Istanbul Talks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Russian, left, and Ukrainian delegations ahead of their talks, in Istanbul, March 29, 2022. (Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Russian, left, and Ukrainian delegations ahead of their talks, in Istanbul, March 29, 2022. (Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine ended Tuesday with both sides stressing the importance of the negotiations and indicating a willingness to compromise.

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, hosted the fifth round of Ukrainian and Russian peace talks. The Russian delegation described the more than four hours of talks as positive. Speaking to reporters after the talks, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin pledged a reduction in military operations.

To increase mutual trust and aid negotiations, he said, a decision was made to reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas.

The Russian delegation said further steps on reducing military operations would be discussed on their return to Moscow. Tuesday's talks focused on Russia's demand that Ukraine should become neutral and end its aspirations to join NATO. The Ukrainian delegation proposed that eight countries should guarantee its security, including Poland, Israel, and Turkey, in exchange for neutrality.

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak, speaking to reporters, said international guarantors are key to accepting neutrality.

He said intensive consultations are underway on various issues, the most important of which is agreement on international security guarantees for Ukraine. That agreement, Podolyak added, is necessary to end the war.

The delegations also discussed proposals on the disputed status of the self-proclaimed breakaway republics of Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea, which Russia annexed.

Ukraine demands their return, while Moscow calls for their international recognition as independent states and Crimea as Russian sovereign territory. Among the proposals discussed was that Crimea's status would be subject to a 15-year consultation period.

But the Ukrainian delegation insisted such a step would only be possible in the event of a complete cease-fire. Expectations had been low ahead of Tuesday's meeting, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed the talks had achieved the most progress since the start of the war.

Analyst Sinan Ulgen said the Ukrainian-Russian negotiations in Istanbul underline the importance of Turkey, which has been careful to maintain good ties with both sides during peace efforts.

"As a result of this balanced policy, Turkey is one of few actors that can play a constructive diplomatic role right now. That diplomatic role can be best described as 'good office,' which is more than a facilitator but less than a mediator," Ulgen saud.

But analysts suggest that a meeting of the Ukrainian and Russian presidents is key to ending the conflict. While Kyiv says it's ready for such a summit, Moscow insists it would only be possible if there are concrete proposals to discuss. Tuesday's meeting may turn out to be the first step in that process.

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