Russia says it will reduce military activity near Ukrainian capital

The last:

  • Russia has said it will reduce operations near the Ukrainian capital following peace talks in Turkey.
  • 7 killed, 22 injured in missile attack on administrative building in Mykolaiv, according to Zelensky.
  • Ukrainian forces are regaining control of the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, in the northeast of the city of Trostyanets, officials say.
  • More than 60 religious buildings destroyed by Russia since the start of the war, according to the Ukrainian army.
  • What questions do you have about Russia’s assault on Ukraine? Email them to [email protected]

The Russian military said on Tuesday it would “fundamentally” scale back operations near the Ukrainian capital and a northern town, potentially a major concession from Moscow amid talks aimed at ending the war that started there over a month ago.

Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the move was aimed at “increasing confidence” in the talks aimed at ending the fighting, as negotiators met face to face after several rounds of unsuccessful talks. But Russian troops have been bogged down and struggling to make major advances recently.

The Istanbul talks have raised flickering hopes that there could be progress towards ending a war that has turned into a bloody campaign of attrition.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Russian and Ukrainian delegations ahead of peace talks at the Dolmabahce presidential office in Istanbul on Tuesday. (Arda Kucukkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Fomin said Moscow decided to “basically…reduce military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for new negotiations.”

Ukraine’s military said it noted withdrawals around kyiv and Chernihiv, although the Pentagon said it could not corroborate the reports.

An adviser to the Ukrainian president said the meeting in Istanbul focused on securing a ceasefire and guarantees for Ukraine’s security – issues that have been at the center of previous unsuccessful negotiations.

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country was ready to declare its neutrality, as Moscow demanded, and was open to compromise on the disputed eastern region of Donbass – comments that could give impetus to negotiations . But even as negotiators gathered, Russian forces struck an oil depot in western Ukraine and demolished a government building in the south, killing several people.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the two sides meeting for talks that they had “historical responsibility” to stop the fighting.

“We believe there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is in no one’s interest,” Erdogan said as he greeted the two delegations seated on either side of a long table.

Zelensky asks for more support

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of a quick military victory has been thwarted by Ukrainian resistance. But any hope raised about the prospects for an end to the conflict was accompanied by Western skepticism about the Russian leader’s commitment to seeking peace. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she thought Putin was “not serious about the talks”.

In fighting that turned into a stalemate, Ukrainian forces recaptured Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday. But he warned Russian troops were regrouping to retake the area.

“We still have to fight, we have to endure,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation. “This is a ruthless war against our nation, against our people, against our children.”

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He also lambasted Western countries, which he repeatedly accused of not going far enough in sanctioning Moscow or supporting Ukraine. The West’s reluctance to supply weapons makes these nations partly responsible for the destruction caused, he said.

“Fear always makes you an accomplice,” he said.

The White House said US President Joe Biden would hold a call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the Russian invasion.

The bombardments continue in the west, in the south

A missile hit an oil depot in western Ukraine on Monday night, the second attack on oil facilities in an area that has been spared the worst of the fighting.

On Tuesday morning, an explosion tore a hole in a nine-story administrative building in Mykolaiv, a southern port city that Russia has tried unsuccessfully to capture. Seven people died in the missile attack and 22 were injured, Zelensky said in a speech to Danish lawmakers.

“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before hitting the building, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”

Firefighters carry a corpse from the rubble of the government building hit by rocket fire in Mykolaiv on Tuesday. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

In other developments:

  • The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the security of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian forces took control of the disused Chernobyl power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, and the active Zaporizhzhia power plant, where a building was damaged in the fighting.

  • Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near kyiv and in the east, the Ukrainian military said in a message on Tuesday.

  • Bloomberg News said it suspended operations in Russia and Belarus. Clients in both countries will not be able to access any Bloomberg financial products and Russian securities trading features have been disabled in accordance with international sanctions, he said.

Over 10 million displaced Ukrainians

Earlier talks between Russia and Ukraine, held in person in Belarus or via video, failed to bring an end to the more than month-long war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including almost four million from their country. .

Russia has long demanded that Ukraine give up hope of joining NATO, which Moscow sees as a threat. Zelensky indicated over the weekend that he was open to that, saying Ukraine was ready to declare its neutrality, but he stressed that the country needed its own security guarantees as part of any agreement. . Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the end of the war depended on “international security guarantees for Ukraine”.

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Roman Abramovich, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been sanctioned by Britain and the EU, was also present in the Istanbul talks hall. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Chelsea football club owner was serving as an unofficial mediator approved by the two countries – but the mystery over his role was deepened by reports he may have been poisoned in a previous round of talks.

Investigative outlet Bellingcat reported on Monday that Abramovich and two Ukrainian delegates suffered eye pain and skin irritation consistent with chemical weapons poisoning after attending the March 3 peace talks. The British government said the allegations were “very concerning”, but Peskov said the information “does not correspond to reality.”

Mariupol evacuation efforts continue

Besides Irpin, Ukrainian forces have also regained control of Trostyanets, south of Sumy in the northeast, after weeks of Russian occupation that left a war-torn landscape.

Arriving in the city soon after on Monday, The Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers abandoned in the woods and Russian tanks burned and twisted. A red “Z” marked a Russian truck, its windshield fractured, near stacked ammunition crates. Ukrainian forces packed into a tank showed signs of victory. Dazed residents lined up amid charred buildings to ask for help.

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to the wreckage of a Russian tank after recent fighting in the town of Trostyanets, about 400 kilometers east of the capital kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

It is not known where the Russian troops went, under what circumstances they fled and whether the city will remain free from them.

Ukraine, meanwhile, said it would attempt to evacuate civilians from three southern towns on Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said humanitarian corridors would start from heavily bombed Mariupol as well as from Enerhodar and Melitopol.

The latter two cities are under Russian control, but Vereshchuk did not specify to what extent Moscow had agreed to the corridors, except to say that 880 people fled Mariupol a day earlier with no agreement in place.

Local residents gather outside a building damaged during fighting in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Monday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Russia turns to the Donbass

Putin’s ground forces have bogged down due to stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, combined with what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, lack of morale, shortages of food, fuel and equipment for cold weather, and other problems.

In response, Russia appears to be focusing more on Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking region where Moscow-backed rebels have been waging a separatist war for eight years, the official said.

In another indication of the shift, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that “the liberation of Donbass” was Moscow’s main military objective.

Shoigu, whose few public appearances this month have raised questions about his health and fate, told senior military officials that Russia had largely completed the first stage of its operation and was turning to “the goal principal – the liberation of Donbass”.

While it raised a possible exit strategy to save Putin’s face, it also raised fears among Ukrainians that the Kremlin was aiming to divide the country, forcing it to cede some of its territory. Still, Zelensky’s comments that he was open to compromise on the region pointed to a possible avenue for negotiations.