Peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv will resume on Friday, a senior Ukrainian official said, amid growing Western skepticism about Russia’s intentions in the talks more than five weeks after its invasion Ukraine.
A Ukrainian chief negotiator, David Arakhamia, said on Thursday that the talks would continue via video and focus on the peace framework that the Ukrainian side presented at a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul this week that Moscow described as constructive.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow would not oppose a separate meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba provided the talks between them were “substantive”.
However, Kyiv and its allies have expressed doubts about Russia’s commitment to talks, noting that there has been no real sign of it promised partial military withdrawal in northern Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill and as an indication that the Kremlin may be playing for time.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has further increased the diplomatic effort. Signing of a decree obliging foreign buyers to pay in rubles for Russian gas from Friday or stopping their energy contracts – a demand that Germany, France and Great Britain immediately rejected and which Berlin described as blackmail.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said Turkey’s aim is to bring Lavrov and Kuleba together for further talks. “There could be a higher level meeting, at least at the level of foreign ministers, within a week or two,” he said. “What is important is that both sides come together and agree on a lasting ceasefire.” He added that “significant progress” had been made, but acknowledged that some may have been “tactical manoeuvres” and little has changed on the ground .
Arakhamia praised the role of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich He initially acted as an “unofficial feedback channel” during the peace talks and is now trying to act more as a neutral mediator between the two sides.
Çavuşoğlu also said the former owner of Chelsea football club “plays a useful role”, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Abramovich clearly has Putin’s trust and is “sincerely” trying to end the conflict.
However, the Kremlin has already rejected some key elements of Ukraine’s peace proposals, and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday that Putin had told him in a phone call that “the conditions were not yet ripe” for a ceasefire. “In Putin’s opinion, there has been some small progress in the negotiations,” Draghi said. “We all want to see a ray of light… There is a desire to move forward soon, but it’s also too early to break the skepticism.”
Western analysts and diplomats, including in the US and UK, have said the Kremlin may be using talk of de-escalation as a ruse while regrouping and resupplying its forces for a more aggressive offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said Thursday the alliance’s intelligence agency had shown that Moscow was not scaling back military operations in the north, but was instead redeploying its forces to join attacks in Ukraine’s embattled eastern Donbass region. held by pro-Russian separatists.
Kiev’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak insistedthat the Kremlin was considering Ukraine’s proposals, which included an international treaty under which Ukraine would remain neutral and its security guaranteed by third countries.
The proposals, which will only come into force in the event of a full ceasefire, envisage a 15-year consultation period on the status of the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow snatched from Ukraine and annexed in 2014.
Podolyak said a draft treaty paving the way for a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin could be signed in the next few days. Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky also indicated that progress is possible.
Meanwhile, in speeches to the Dutch and Australian parliaments on Thursday, Zelenskyy called for more arms and aid and a complete halt to trade with Russia, saying a failure in Moscow’s aggression would encourage others to do the same.
“Stronger sanctions are needed to prevent Russia from pursuing this war any further Europe‘ the Ukrainian President told Dutch MPs via a video link. “Stop all trade deals with Russia.” Energy imports from Russia must be stopped “so that you don’t pay billions for the war.”
Referring to the international war crimes tribunals in The Hague, Zelenskyj demanded justice. “Those who gave the order to bomb and bomb Ukraine must be held accountable. In The Hague, the city of tribunals, people know that,” he said.
Speaking to the Australian Parliament, Zelenskyy said Russia must be held accountable. “If we don’t stop Russia now, if we don’t hold Russia accountable, then some other countries in the world … will decide that things like this are possible for them, too,” he said.
The Ukrainian leader reiterated his call for tougher sanctions, accusing Moscow of “nuclear blackmail” to limit the global response to the invasion, which cut Russia off from much international trade with unprecedented sanctions.
The European Development Bank said on Thursday it expects Russia’s economy to contract by 10% and Ukraine’s by 20% this year, calling the war between the two countries “the biggest supply shock” in 50 years.
Additional reporting by Angela Giuffrida in Rome