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Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Small Retreat, But Not A Great Peace

In Istanbul, offers for a solution to the Ukraine war were again on the table, and Russia signaled relaxation. There is currently not enough evidence for an agreement.

The mood on the stock exchange improved immediately after these developments: Russia wants to have initiated a "radical" reduction in "military activities" near Kiev and Chernihiv - "to strengthen confidence". Now that practical steps are being taken to prepare an agreement with Ukraine. 

The Russian negotiators, who met with the Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul this Tuesday, called the talks "significant" and "constructive". The Ukrainian side presented a "comprehensibly formulated position for inclusion in a treaty". Signals of relaxation? Approaching a compromise that both sides could endure? The end of the war within reach? Probably not yet.

The Ukrainian proposals are now to be submitted to the Russian President before there is a substantive answer on how and when to proceed. And a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy will only be possible once the foreign ministers of both countries have reached an agreement.

Delegations Meet In Istanbul

So further negotiations and in the end the heads of state decide, according to Russia 's position , which is decisive. The announcement from Moscow that it wants to concentrate militarily on eastern Ukraine is also more of a strategic necessity than a voluntary sign of goodwill: a tactical retreat in northern Ukraine, where Russian troops are making no progress, or from Ukrainian units anyway be pushed back.

The "most significant advances"?

It also seems almost impossible that Ukraine's ideas of what a far-reaching agreement could look like will be met with much sympathy from Putin. Although the offers from Kiev clearly accommodate the aggressor. The status of the annexed Crimea, for example, should remain unresolved for the time being, both sides should commit to negotiating this within 15 years after the end of hostilities, and Ukraine should not try to win back the peninsula militarily. De facto it would remain Russian for the time being.

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From the perspective of the government in Kyiv, the cession of Ukrainian territory to Russia is actually out of the question: "We only recognize Ukraine's borders that were recognized by the world as of 1991," said negotiator David Arachamija, who is also the parliamentary leader of Zelensky's ruling party. It is extremely questionable whether the talks in Istanbul actually brought "the most significant progress" since the start of the negotiations, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu exulted afterwards.

Especially since the withdrawal in northern Ukraine is already visible, but at the same time it was said from the Kremlin: The "military special operation" is going on, it is proceeding "strictly according to plan", the tasks and goals continue to be the "demilitarization of Ukraine, denazification "—would be fulfilled. And during the negotiations, said the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, not only the possible neutrality of Ukraine and the associated security guarantees will be discussed, but also the "recognition of today's territorial realities".

Zelensky's Is Ready To Quit NATO

The Ukrainian position that its borders are non-negotiable fits in with this only with difficulty. The government in Kyiv has itself limited the scope for concessions because it says a referendum by the Ukrainian people is a basic requirement for a possible agreement with Russia - there will be little support for a split. Although Zelenskyj had recently indicated that he could also be willing to make compromises with regard to the areas in the Donbass, which Russia had recognized as independent republics. How far they reach was apparently not clarified in detail in Istanbul and should concern the foreign ministers. In any case, Ukraine hopes to be able to exclude the status of the so-called separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk from a quick peace solution for the time being.

It may be just as difficult to realize Ukraine's ideas for later security agreements in return for its nuclear-weapon-free neutrality. It would refrain from joining NATO and no foreign military bases would be allowed in the country without Russian approval. However, countries such as Turkey, Israel, Poland and Canada, the USA, China, Germany, France and Great Britain should stand by as guarantors of Ukraine's security in the event of an attack.

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There is talk of a binding system that provides for military support, a mechanism "under which the guarantor states would behave in accordance with Article 5 of NATO and even in an even stricter form," said Ukrainian negotiator Arakhamiya.

It is not known to what extent the partners mentioned by Ukraine are already involved. And whether Putin would agree to such an alliance involving NATO countries that would provide Ukraine with similar protection that has allegedly caused him so much concern remains questionable. After all: "The Russian Federation has no objections to Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union," said Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky in Istanbul.

Whether according to plan or not, the war goes on despite everything, even if things could calm down a little in Kyiv. In any case, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not want to see any fundamental reorientation this Tuesday. The United States is focused on what Russia is doing, not what it says: "I haven't seen anything that suggests this is moving forward in an effective way, because we haven't seen any signs of real seriousness."

The Ukrainian leadership is certainly right in remaining skeptical and still negotiating seriously. Your condition for an agreement with Russia is therefore: First, there must be peace again in the entire territory of Ukraine. And only Putin can produce that. If he wants to.

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