Ukraine war: Russia reportedly withdrawing some troops after talks
Kyiv, Ukraine - Moscow and Kyiv plan to start a new round of negotiations in Istanbul on Tuesday, some four and a half weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started.
The delegations from Russia and Ukraine met at the Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul on Tuesday morning at around 10:30 AM local time (3:30 AM EST), according to the Turkish Presidential Office.
The Turkish side will meet each of the delegations before the talks begin, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said after a Cabinet meeting in Ankara. He reiterated his hope for an early ceasefire.
Erdoğan said he was in telephone contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Turkish leader said things were moving in a "positive direction."
The negotiators from Ukraine and Russia have already met three times in the border area of Belarus, with further talks held via video link.
Kyiv wants a withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees. Moscow is demanding Ukraine renounce NATO, recognize breakaway eastern Ukrainian separatist regions as independent and recognize the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, annexed in 2014, as part of Russia. Reports say the vague demands of "denazification" have been dropped recently.
On day 34 of the war, accounts continued to pour in of the devastation wrought by the Russian military. Kharkiv, the second-biggest city in Ukraine, has seen nearly 1,180 residential buildings destroyed during the weeks-long bombardment, in addition to dozens of schools and kindergartens, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said.
Meanwhile, the evacuation mission planned by France together with Turkey and Greece for the besieged port city of Mariupol has not been agreed on yet. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the operation on Friday evening but the necessary coordination with the Kremlin is still pending, according to Macron's office. According to estimates by Mayor Vadym Boychenko, there are still about 160,000 people in city, which has now been largely left in ruins while water, electricity, heating, and communication links are down.
In a Monday night update, Kyiv's General Staff said Ukraine's military was trying to repel Russian forces in several locations. Efforts to prevent a Russian advance on Slovyansk in the south-eastern Donetsk region and Barvinkove in the Kharkiv region were under way, they said in a Facebook post.
Here are the latest developments as they come in, on what could be a crucial day for the future of this war.
UPDATE, March 29, 4:30 PM EST: Russia partially withdrawing troops as evacuation route is blocked
Ukrainian border guard Roman Hrybov, whose phrase, "Russian warship, go f**k yourself" went viral in the early days of the war as he defended Snake Island, has been given a special medal "for merits to Cherkasy Region." A video released by Ukraine on Tuesday shows him being awarded the medal by government official Regional Governor Ihor Taburets, after being released by Russia last week as part of a prisoner exchange.
After negotiations on Tuesday, Russia has reportedly partially withdrawn its military units from Kyiv and Chernihiv.
Yet, Russia has also reportedly blocked pre-agreed upon evacuation routes to Zaporizhzhia. According to Zaporizhzhia Governor Oleksandr Starukh, routes from Enerhodar and Berdyansk were halted by Moscow.
UPDATE, March 29, 3:15 PM EST: Deaths reported in attack on Mykolayiv
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees no significant progress in the peace talks held between Russia and Ukraine, as Moscow's attacks on its neighbor continue, he said on Tuesday during a visit to Morocco.
"There is what Russia says. And there's what Russia does. We're focused on the latter. And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people," Blinken said.
The military de-escalation around Kyiv and Chernihiv agreed earlier on Tuesday is not a ceasefire, Russia's chief negotiator in the peace talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky, has stressed, but "an effort to gradually come to a de-escalation of the conflict." However, the head of the Russian delegation also made it clear that Moscow was still expecting further concessions from Ukraine, like the country renouncing its hopes to join NATO.
A second day of talks is not expected on Wednesday, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, despite earlier reports the talks would continue through Wednesday. The official did not cite a reason for the decision.
President Biden said the US and its allies have no intention of lifting sanctions against Russia yet, and are waiting to see if the country will follow through on its promise to de-escalate.
Meanwhile, Russia continued its hostilities against Ukraine. In the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv, the regional administration building was attacked by the Russian army, presumably with a missile.
According to the local civil defense, three people were killed and at least 22 others injured in Tuesday's attack.
The figures could not yet be independently verified.
UPDATE, March 29, 10:05 AM EST: Kremlin still wants dialogue with US
The Kremlin has indicated that it considers the continued dialogue between Russia and the US necessary, despite recent ill feeling over President Joe Biden's statements about Vladimir Putin.
Dialogue is "necessary" despite that fact that Biden's use of "personal insults" towards Putin had had a "negative impact" on bilateral relations, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow on Tuesday, according to the Interfax agency.
"It is not only in the interest of both countries, but in the interest of the whole world." Sooner or later, he said, Russia and the US would have to discuss issues such as strategic stability and security.
Biden on Sunday told reporters he is not seeking regime change in Russia, a day after saying that Putin "cannot remain in power."
UPDATE, March 29, 10:00 AM EST: Ukraine wants security guarantees from NATO countries
Ukraine wants the US, Britain, Turkey, France, and Germany to serve as guarantor states in case of a possible peace deal with Russia, a senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says.
"Security guarantees treaty with an enhanced analogue of Article 5 of NATO. Guarantor states (USA, UK, Turkey, France, Germany, etc.) legally actively involved in protecting Ukraine from any aggression," Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
This could be implemented with a referendum in Ukraine and through the parliaments of the proposed guarantor states, he suggested.
Kyiv also offered to extend negotiations on the status of Russian-invaded Crimea for as long as 15 years, he added.
"It's also offered not to resolve the Crimean issue by military means in any case. Only political & diplomatic efforts," Podolyak tweeted.
UPDATE, March 29, 9:00 AM EST: Russian delegation calls talks "constructive"
The latest round of negotiations to end Russia's war in Ukraine have been "constructive," Russian delegation leader Vladimir Medinsky says.
"Talks with the Ukrainian side have just ended. The talks have been constructive," Medinski told journalists in Istanbul.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy also said Russia was ready to take military and political "steps to de-escalate the conflict."
Ukraine's "proposals will be examined in the near future, submitted to the president and we will respond accordingly," Medinsky said.
Earlier, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin had announced a significant reduction in "military activities" near Kyiv and Chernihiv.
UPDATE, March 29, 8:30 AM EST: Russia to reduce hostility as talks progress
Russia will significantly reduce its "military activities" around Kyiv and Chernihiv in light of progress made during its negotiations with Ukraine, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said on Tuesday.
The news came as the Russian and Ukrainian delegations ended their negotiations in Istanbul after about four hours of talks, Turkish state broadcaster TRT reported.
The talks have been difficult, with the Ukrainian government demanding a full withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees.
UPDATE, March 29, 6:30 AM EST: Russia to continue attacks despite negotiations
Russia says it will continue hostilities against Ukraine despite ongoing peace talks in Istanbul.
"The Russian armed forces are continuing the special military operation," Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Russian airstrikes have destroyed 68 Ukrainian military objects since Monday, Konashenkov added. Among them were anti-aircraft missile systems, two ammunition depots and three fuel depots. Three drones were also destroyed.
The information could not be independently verified.
The Russian Defence Ministry also confirmed a missile attack on a fuel depot in the Rivne region in north-western Ukraine late on Monday evening. The fuel was destined for Ukrainian military equipment in suburbs of Kyiv, it said.
There also seems to be a bit of mixed messaging coming out of the Russian camp, as Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov revived the "denazification" demand today, after it seemed to have been quietly dropped.
UPDATE, March 29, 6:00 AM EST: Don't drink or eat with Russians, Ukrainians warn
Those negotiating with Russia should not eat or drink with them following unconfirmed reports that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators were poisoned during talks at the start of the month, warned Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
"I advise anyone going through negotiations with the Russian Federation not to eat or drink anything, and preferably avoid touching any surface," Sky News cited Kuleba as saying.
It comes as discussions between Ukrainian and Russian delegations are set to continue in Turkey on Tuesday.
UPDATE, March 29, 5:50 AM EST: Russia is not thinking about using nuclear weapons
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said Russia has no plans to use nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine.
"No one is thinking about using ... even about [the] idea of using a nuclear weapon," Peskov said in an interview with PBS on Monday.
"We have no doubt that all the objectives of our special military operation in Ukraine will be completed. We have no doubt about that," Peskov said.
"But any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon," he said.
"We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat," he explained.
"Let's keep these two things separate, I mean, existence of the state and [the] special military operation in Ukraine. They have nothing to do with each other," Peskov added.
Cover photo: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS