Ukraine-Russia Peace Talks Underway in Istanbul

A new round of peace talks aimed at ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began Tuesday in Turkey as Ukrainian soldiers appear to have retaken more towns from Russian ground forces whose advances have stalled amid fierce opposition by Ukrainian fighters.

Addressing negotiators from Russia and Ukraine before the start of talks in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech, it was up to both sides to reach a concrete agreement and “stop this tragedy.”

The Russian negotiating team included billionaire Roman Abramovich, who suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning, along with at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team, after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month.

Speaking about the peace talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on national television Monday that “the minimum program will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum program is reaching an agreement on a cease-fire.”

During an interview Sunday in a call with Russian journalists, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was open to adopting neutral status as part of a peace deal if it came with third-party guarantees and was put to a referendum.

Hours before the negotiations began, President Zelenskyy insisted that sanctions imposed by Western nations against Moscow need to be “effective and substantial” in order for them to have the intended effect on Russia’s economy. According to The New York Times, Zelenskyy said if Russia manages to “circumvent” the sanctions, “it creates a dangerous illusion for the Russian leadership that they can continue to afford what they are doing now. And Ukrainians pay for it with their lives. Thousands of lives.”

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense official has told reporters that Ukrainian troops have retaken the town of Trostyanets, located near the northeastern city of Sumy, while Zelenskyy said in his Monday night speech that Ukrainian troops have liberated Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv.

But just as the talks were getting underway in Istanbul, a Russian airstrike destroyed a government building in the port city of Mykolaiv. Governor Vitaly Kim says several people are trapped in the rubble.

And Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced in a video message posted on the social media site Telegram that her country has reopened and evacuated civilians from war-scarred regions after a one-day pause over what Kyiv called possible Russian “provocations.”

The United Nations says that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has pushed 10 million people out of their homes and that more than 3.8 million have fled the country.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.