Russia and Ukraine edge towards agreement on key peace points, says Turkey

Russia and Ukraine “have almost reached agreement” on four critical points of a potential peace agreement, Turkey’s foreign minister said, as fierce fighting continued to devastate the key port city of Mariupol.

Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkey’s pro-government Hurriyet newspaper that there was a growing “convergence” between Moscow and Kyiv after intense diplomacy over the past week.

“On important subjects, critical subjects, there is a convergence between the two sides,” Cavusoglu said. “Especially on the first four points we see that they have almost reached agreement.”

Turkey, which is mediating in the talks alongside Israel, said Ukraine and Russia had made significant progress on Kyiv declaring neutrality and abandoning its drive for NATO membership, “demilitarizing” Ukraine in exchange for collective security guarantees, what Russia calls “denazification”, and lifting restrictions on the use of Russian in Ukraine.

A possible agreement would require Russia to announce a ceasefire and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory to the positions they had been in when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24.

It is likely that a compromise would involve Kyiv making token concessions by banning certain groups or changing the names of streets named after Ukrainian partisans who fought alongside Nazi Germany against the USSR in the second world war, said two people briefed on the talks.

Russia is also likely to soften a demand for Ukraine to make Russian the second official language in the country if Kyiv rolls back laws limiting its use, one of the people added.

Ukraine and its western allies are skeptical of Russia’s motives in negotiating and fear Putin could be buying time to replenish Moscow’s forces and launch a new offensive.

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said talks were worth pursuing even if they had a “1 percent chance of success” and warned that a failure of negotiations would risk “a third world war”.

“We have demonstrated the dignity of our people and our army. . . But unfortunately our dignity is not going to preserve lives. So I think we have to use any format, any chance, in order to have the possibility of negotiating, ”he said.

He added that western leaders had told him Ukraine would not be allowed to join NATO or the EU although “publicly, the doors will remain open”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, accused Moscow of failing to fully participate in the talks. “The negotiations seem to be one-sided,” she said. “The Russians have not leaned into any possibility for a negotiated and diplomatic solution.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said Russia had used its new Kinzhal hypersonic missiles against civilian areas, in the first confirmation from Kyiv that the Kremlin had deployed the missiles in Ukraine for the first time.

Moscow claims it used the Kinzhal, which Russia says can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, twice in the past three days: to destroy a fuel depot near Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine and to target a munitions storage facility in the country’s west.

Russian forces continued their intense assault of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, whose status is a key sticking point in the talks, according to two people briefed on them.

Ukraine’s armed forces said the situation was “difficult: there is famine in the city, street fights, people are trying to leave the city on their own”. Russian forces have cut off electricity, heat and food supplies.

Authorities in Mariupol said Russian forces bombed a school where about 400 residents were sheltering. A statement on the city council’s Telegram channel said the building was destroyed and “civilians are still under the rubble”.

“Information on the number of casualties is still being clarified,” it said.

Anna Romanenko, a local journalist who has evacuated from Mariupol but is in contact with sources there, said there was heavy fighting in the center, with Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers being attacked by Ukrainian government troops in and around Theater Square, a prominent landmark .

“The front now runs straight through the city,” she said. Large parts of Mariupol were fully in Russian hands, she said.

Russia is publicly sticking to Putin’s demands made in the first days of the invasion, including vaguely defined calls to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine. Moscow also wants Kyiv to recognize its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the independence of two Russia-backed separatist territories in the eastern Donbas region.

As its invasion has stalled, however, Russia has quietly dropped its vow to remove Zelensky and dialed down suggestions of carving up the country into Moscow-backed fiefdoms and a rump state.

Ukraine has ruled out making territorial concessions to Russia under any circumstances and has said negotiations on the areas seized by Moscow before this year would require separate talks between Zelensky and Putin.

Mariupol is a particularly difficult issue because it is part of the Ukrainian-held territory claimed by the separatists.

Putin has justified the invasion by claiming Russia is liberating Ukraine from Nazis, even though Zelensky is Jewish and far-right nationalist groups have little influence in the country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told NBC News it was “far too early” to say whether peace talks could succeed, but emphasized the need to prevent the conflict from becoming “a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia in Europe”.

US President Joe Biden is not planning to travel to Ukraine when he visits Europe this week, the White House said, despite invitations to do so from the Ukrainian government.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a tweet that Biden had “no plans” to visit the country during his trip, which will include attending Thursday’s Nato summit in Brussels.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington

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