The declarations from the two sides followed hours of negotiations hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in an ornate palace on the Bosporus strait. They signaled a rare moment of optimism after weeks of halting negotiations that have done nothing to slow the bloody invasion.
But U.S. and other Western leaders were skeptical, saying they would judge Russia by its actions and not its words. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there were continued strikes Tuesday on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. “We’re not convince that the threat to the capital city has been radically diminished,” he said.
Russia, whose forces have bombarded Ukrainian cities for weeks, said in a statement that Tuesday’s talks had focused on “humanitarian issues.” The Kremlin also signaled it will keep fighting for Mariupol, a key southern port city, saying that unless “Ukrainian nationalist militants” stop resisting and lay down their arms, it will be difficult to “resolve the acute humanitarian situation” there.
The centerpiece of the Ukrainian proposal was a pledge that the country would give up its bid to join NATO in exchange for a security system guaranteed by international partners including the United States, Turkey and others. Ukrainian negotiators likened the offer to Article 5 of NATO’s charter, which ensures the alliance’s collective defense.
The guarantor parties — including European countries, Canada and Israel — would provide Ukraine with military assistance and weapons if it were attacked, the negotiators said. Ukraine, in turn, would ensure it remained “nonaligned and nonnuclear,” although it would retain the right to join the European Union.
The Ukrainian proposal also offered a 15-year timeline for negotiations with Russia over the status of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s lead negotiator, characterized the talks to reporters afterward as a “substantive conversation.” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the discussions amounted to “the most meaningful progress since the start of negotiations.”
Reaction from the United States was mixed, even as Moscow’s pledge to reduce military activity boosted U.S. stock markets on Tuesday morning. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed skepticism about the talks in Turkey, saying Moscow’s brutal, month-old military offensive leaves little room for optimism.
“There is what Russia says, and what Russia does: We’re focused on the latter, and what Russia has been doing is the brutalization of Ukraine and its people,” Blinken said during a joint news conference with his Moroccan counterpart in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
In a conversation with leaders from the United States, France, Germany and Italy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also shared doubts about Moscow’s intentions, the British government said.
“Putin is twisting the knife in the open wound of Ukraine in an attempt to force the country and its allies to capitulate,” the British government said in a statement. “The Prime Minister stressed to his fellow leaders that we should be unrelenting in our response.”
The Pentagon’s top officer overseeing U.S. troops in Europe, Gen. Tod D. Wolters, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday that he could verify reports of Russian forces pulling back in the area around Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But Kirby said at a briefing that there have been only “small numbers” of forces moving away, and suggested Russia was carrying out a repositioning, not a “real withdrawal.”
“No amount of spin can mask what the world has witnessed over the past month, and that’s the courage and the military prowess of Ukraine’s armed forces and its people, which are proving to be more than Russia bargained for in its unprovoked and unjustified invasion,” Kirby said.
Ukrainian military officials said in a Facebook post Tuesday that it appears that Russian forces north of Kyiv have pulled back north to Chernobyl and into Belarus to “restore combat capability.” But the officials warned that once the Russian forces complete “the regrouping and strengthening of troops,” their actions against Kyiv could resume. On Monday, Ukrainian officials said they had recaptured Irpin, a Kyiv suburb.
In Istanbul, the delegations from Ukraine and Russia arrived in convoys at the Dolmabahce Palace about 9 a.m. local time. Erdogan, addressing the delegates, expressed hope that the negotiations would lead to a cease-fire and said “the whole world is waiting for benevolent and good news from you.”
Before Tuesday’s talks, Russia and Ukraine had sought to temper hopes of a breakthrough, after high-level negotiations in southwestern Turkey this month and weeks of talks via video link failed to produce an agreement. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told local media outlets Monday that Kyiv’s goal is — at best — a “sustainable” cease-fire. His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow should “stop indulging” Kyiv.
Outside the palace, the international press corps, barred from the meeting hall, crowded on a narrow sidewalk, perching laptops on shrubbery and watching convoys of delegations roll in. Inside the hall, a sighting of Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who faces sanctions in Europe, added to the intrigue surrounding the proceedings: A day earlier, an associate of Abramovich said the oligarch suspected he was poisoned at a previous round of talks, along with members of the Ukrainian delegation.
The Kremlin denied any connection to the alleged incident, which has not been independently confirmed by The Washington Post. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegation Tuesday in a conference call with reporters as “part of the information sabotage” of the West. But in comments to a Ukrainian news channel, Kuleba advised anyone at the negotiations “not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface.”
In comments to reporters early Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian delegates said that any agreement struck with Moscow would be subject to a popular referendum. Some of the thorniest issues, including the status of Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia, would have to be worked out by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, they said.
But Ukrainian negotiators suggested the day’s events had provided a possible path forward. Oleksandr Chaly, a member of Ukraine’s delegation, said talks with Russia would continue in the next two weeks. Consultations have already begun with the guarantor countries, which could be invited to send representatives to the upcoming negotiations, he said.
After the Ukrainian and Russian leaders reached a “final agreement,” they would hold a multilateral conference where a deal would be signed, Chaly said. He said “high officials from the guarantor countries” would participate in the conference.
Stern reported from Mukachevo, Ukraine, and Lamothe from Washington. John Hudson in Rabat, Morocco, Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, and Annabelle Timsit and Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul contributed to this report.