Russia and Ukraine advance their negotiations but avoid talking about Crimea and Donbass

Negotiations between the delegations of Russia and Ucrania will meet on March 29 in Estambul in which it ended, a priori, and more significant advances in the conversations from the start of the rounds of encounters on the border between Ucrania and Belarus in the finals February. However, during the meeting between the parties, no progress was made on short-term solutions to key issues such as Donbass or Crimea.

34 days have passed since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and today, March 29, delegations from opposing sides met in Istanbul, Turkey, in what has become the round of a priori negotiations the most fruitful since the beginning of the conversations.

However, issues such as the sovereignty of Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine, or Crimea, irregularly annexed by Russia in 2014, remained in the outline of the session, outside the details of the talks.

Although progress is not denied, distrust continues to dominate the scene, as Ukrainian President Volodímir Zelensky said in his usual recorded message published on the presidential website each end of the day.

“Yes, we can call the signals we heard from the trading platform positive. trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction”.

Despite the natural reluctance of the Ukrainian leader, today in Istanbul were raised crucial issues for the transition to the end of the conflict, which could go through the development and signing of an international treaty.

In the negotiations, Russia demands Ukraine’s neutrality and commitment to the nation rejecting its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or any other international military alliance.

Moreover, the Kremlin also demands that its neighbors refuse to have foreign military bases on their territory, as well as nuclear weapons.

For its part, Ukraine, which would be ready to accept these conditions, demands in return an international treaty in which at least 11 countries offer security guarantees in the event of Russian aggression or military attack. Only then could an agreement be reached, according to Oleksander Chalyi, a member of the Ukrainian negotiating committee.

The countries that guarantee Ukraine’s security in the event of an offensive would, according to the delegation of this country, be the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (United States, China, Russia, France and United Kingdom). . And they would be joined by Turkey, Poland, Germany, Italy, Israel and Canada.

“Others can join,” added David Arahamiya, the Ukrainian side’s chief negotiator.

However, even if there were an agreement between the parties in conflict, the course of the hypothetical international treaty would not stop there, since the guarantor countries would have to formalize their role as such and, moreover, the text should be put to a referendum in Ukraine so that, if approved, it will be part of its Magna Carta.

This referendum would only take place once the de facto withdrawal of Russian troops had been consummated.

After the meeting between the parties, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, who together with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acted as a mediator, said with hope that the meeting on Tuesday March 29 could mean the opening of path to the summit bilateral agreement between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before addressing them, ahead of their face-to-face talks in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2022.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before addressing them, ahead of their face-to-face talks in Istanbul, Turkey, March 29, 2022. © via REUTERS – MURAT CETINMUHURDAR/PPO

“We can say that the two sides have come closer. They have made significant progress today. Now the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet and then a meeting of the leaders is scheduled,” Çavusoglu told the end of session.

Along the same lines and in the spirit of showing his predisposition to the progress of the negotiations, the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinski, proposed “an arrangement, according to which the meeting of Heads of State is possible simultaneously with opening of the treaty.

“Radical” military reduction in kyiv and Chernihiv?

Amid the negotiations, the Russian negotiating committee announced that Kremlin troops would limit their pressure on the capital, kyiv, and other cities in the country such as northern Chernihiv, besieged by the Russian army for days.

“In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for continuing negotiations and achieving the goal of reaching consensus and signing an agreement, Russia has decided to cardinally reduce military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv,” said Alexandr Fomin, deputy defense minister.

In the hours following the Russian government’s announcement, Tom Wolters, NATO commander and head of the US European Command (EUCOM), confirmed on the afternoon of March 29 before the Armed Services Committee of the United States Senate that “a change of dynamic” is taking place on the part of the Russian military forces around kyiv, which could imply a possible Russian withdrawal to settle its negotiating position.

However, information from the Pentagon, headquarters of the American Department of Defense, alluded in the same afternoon to the fact that Russia was demobilizing “a small number” of military units in the perimeter surrounding kyiv, but excluded that it this is “a real withdrawal”, since he still keeps “the vast majority” of his recruits and his defensive equipment in the area.

“We think this is a relocation, not a real withdrawal, and we should all be ready to see a major offensive against other parts of Ukraine,” the spokesman said. Ministry of Defence, John Kirby, during a press conference.

Furthermore, Kirby, showing his skepticism, said that “no one should be fooled by the Kremlin’s recent assertion that it will suddenly reduce military attacks on kyiv or any other information indicating that it will withdraw all its forces.”

According to the Pentagon, Russian troops will not withdraw from kyiv or any other city with the aim of leaving Ukraine, but with the aim of relocating to other areas of the country such as the Donbass region, which has officially become a priority objective. .. from the Kremlin since the end of last week.

On the ground, journalists working from the Ukrainian capital covering the war reported in the late afternoon of March 29 that, despite the Kremlin’s announcements, anti-aircraft sirens sounded again in Kyiv and loud roars explosions lasted several hours.

For this reason, President Zelensky called for not letting our guard down because “the Russian military still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state”.

Crimea and Donbass, apart from the details of the negotiation

To the detriment in particular of progress in the talks between the Russian-Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul, there are sensitive subjects which have been excluded from the initial demands of the parties.

Russia claims the military neutrality of Ukraine, although it does not prevent its entry into the European Union (on the contrary, the guarantor countries must actively participate in the future inclusion of the country in the community club) and the Ukraine demands guarantees to avoid future military offensives.

However, on the sovereignty of the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine; or over the sovereignty of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia irregularly annexed in 2014, no short-term solution has been offered.

Russia recognizes these territories as its own and argued last week that their defense and full control is the Kremlin’s top priority; while Ukraine wants to recover this same space because it considers it an unbreakable part of its national sovereignty.

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky visits the front line of his country's armed forces against Russian separatists in the Donbass region, Ukraine, April 8, 2021
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky visits the front line of his country’s armed forces against Russian separatists in the Donbass region, Ukraine, April 8, 2021 via REUTERS – UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER

In order not to hamper the talks on the rest of the points, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Zelenski and member of the Ukrainian negotiating delegation, proposed that the territorial dispute in the south-east of the country be resolved within 15 years, period during which the parties agree not to resort to violence on the ground.

Be that as it may, neither Crimea nor Donbass will be part of the possible international treaty in which the parties in conflict could continue to advance in the near future.

For the moment, the meeting in Istanbul, which was to continue on Wednesday March 30, has been suspended due to the progress of the conclusions during the first day of talks.

With information from the EFE Agency

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