Russia has announced it will “drastically reduce” military combat operations in two key areas of Ukraine “to boost mutual trust” in peace talks.
The decision to scale back operations around the capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv is the first sign of tangible progress in talks since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Ukraine has proposed neutrality in exchange for security guarantees.
Russia launched the invasion to stop Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance.
Russian officials said peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey, had moved to a practical stage.
Deputy Defence Minister, Alexander Fomin, who was taking part in the talks, told Russian TV that as “Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status and security guarantees” had progressed, the defence ministry had taken the decision to cut its operations dramatically in the two areas to “create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and for the signing of the aforementioned agreement”.
While Russia is focusing on capturing areas of eastern Ukraine and a southern land corridor to Crimea, its military assault on Kyiv has been bogged down for weeks.
Ukrainian forces have recaptured towns to the north-west of the capital including Irpin and Makariv, while Russian forces have encircled Chernihiv. Officials in the northern city say up to 400 people have been killed and some 130,000 residents are without heating, electricity or water supplies.
Ukrainian negotiator, Oleksandr Chaly, told reporters in Istanbul that its offer of neutrality was a chance to “restore the territorial integrity and security of Ukraine through diplomatic means”. Ukraine’s aim was to “fix its status as a de facto non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality”.
Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said talks had been “meaningful” and Ukraine’s proposals on neutrality would be put to President Vladimir Putin, holding out the possibility of a summit involving Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.
In a face-to-face interview with The Economist in Kyiv, Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, spoke powerfully of the pitilessness of Russia’s war machine. Vladimir Putin, he said, “is throwing Russian soldiers like logs into a train’s furnace”.