Russia's military said Tuesday it would "fundamentally" cut back operations near Ukraine's capital and a northern city, potentially a significant concession by Moscow amid talks aimed at ending the war that began more than a month ago.
Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the move was meant "to increase trust" in talks aimed at ending fighting, as negotiators met face-to-face after several rounds of failed negotiations. But Russia's troops have been bogged down and struggling to make major advances recently.
The talks in Istanbul raised flickering hopes there could be progress toward ending a war that has ground into a bloody campaign of attrition.
Fomin said Moscow had decided to "fundamentally ... cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv" to "increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations."
Ukraine's military said it had noted withdrawals around Kyiv and Chernihiv, though the Pentagon said it could not corroborate the reports.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Morocco, cautioned tht has not seen "signs of real seriousness" from Russia in pursuing peace.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president said the meeting in Istanbul was focused on securing a cease-fire and guarantees for Ukraine's security — issues that have been at the heart of previous unsuccessful negotiations.
Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country was prepared to declare its neutrality, as Moscow has demanded, and was open to compromise over the contested eastern region of Donbas — comments that might lend momentum to negotiations. But even as the negotiators assembled, Russian forces hit an oil depot in western Ukraine and demolished a government building in the south, with several deaths.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the two sides that they had a "historic responsibility" to stop the fighting.
"We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone's interest," Erdogan said, as he greeted the two delegations seated on opposite sides of a long table.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's aim of a quick military victory has been thwarted by stiff Ukrainian resistance. But any hope that raised about prospects for an end to the conflict was accompanied by Western skepticism about the Russian leader's commitment to seeking peace. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she thought Putin was "not serious about talks."
In fighting that has devolved into a back-and-forth stalemate, Ukrainian forces retook Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Kyiv, Zelenskyy said late Monday. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to take the area back.
"We still have to fight; we have to endure," Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation. "This is a ruthless war against our nation, against our people, against our children."
He also lashed out at Western countries, which he has repeatedly accused of not going far enough to punish Moscow with sanctions or support Ukraine. Western hesitancy in providing weapons makes those nations partially responsible for the destruction wrought, he said.
"Fear always makes you an accomplice," he said.
After the missile strike on the oil depot in western Ukraine late Monday, on Tuesday morning, an explosion blasted a hole in a nine-story administration building in Mykolaiv, a southern port city that Russia has unsuccessfully tried to capture.
Seven people died in the missile attack and 22 were wounded, Zelenskyy said in an address to Danish lawmakers.
"It's terrible. They waited for people to go to work" before striking the building, said regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim. "I overslept. I'm lucky."
Compiled from The Associated Press and Reuters reports.
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