Delegations from Russia and Ukraine met in Istanbul this week to begin another round of peace talks between the two countries since Russia’s invasion last month. The talks come amidst a backdrop of the Russian military failing to achieve their goals, and the Ukrainian military seeing success in preventing the Russian military from capturing major population centers.
The most impactful event of the talks was the claim that Russian forces will be withdrawing from the suburbs of Kyiv. According to Reuters, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin can be quoted as saying, “a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chermihiv directions.” Fomin made no mention of whether Russia will draw down fighting in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy, or Mariupol, with the latter most city currently enduring a humanitarian crisis due to its encirclement.
US Officials and the Pentagon are skeptical of whether Russia will stick to its word concerning the drawback. Also according to Reuters, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the Russian drawback “does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.” There is concern amongst those in the Pentagon and other Western Defense agencies that this move is merely a cover for a repositioning and regrouping. This concern is lended to the fact that the Ukrainian military is having success on this front, with their forces recapturing the Kyiv suburb of Irpin as a highlight of said success. Western observers are concerned that Russia will mask a tactical retreat with a diplomatic gesture, possibly sending the wrong signals. Earlier this week, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that phase 1 of the military operation was complete, and that the special operation will now focus on the “liberation” of Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Outside of a drawdown of Russian forces, other topics were discussed in Istanbul. The status of Ukraine’s neutrality was discussed, with negotiators agreeing not to join foreign military alliances such as NATO or harbor foreign military bases. However, a security mechanism, similar to that of NATO’s Article 5, would be a necessity. Countries such as Turkey, Poland, Canada and Israel were named as potential guarantors, and left the door open for other countries to fill that role.
The status of Crimea was also raised, and the idea of a 15 year consultation period on its status was proposed. Kyiv also made it clear that it desires Moscow not to interfere should Ukraine seek to join the European Union. Both the Ukrainian and Russian sides said that the peace process has a long way to go, but that talks were moving along and that recent de-escalatory actions and suggestions can serve as the basis for future talks.
Regarding the peace talks and whether or not Russia will respect their statement of reducing hostilities in the direction of Kyiv, junior business undergraduate Isabella Hanna said, “I share the sentiments of our government. We should be cautious of Russia’s intentions during these talks. I feel it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to people’s lives.”