In the fog of war, reality can be distorted but it does appear that the Russians have been forced to retrench their ambitions in Ukraine in the face of fierce resistance. As the latest round of talks between the two sides took place in Istanbul, Russia’s deputy defence minister said they would “drastically” reduce military activity around Kyiv and Chernihiv in light of the “constructive” negotiations.
He said the move was designed “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing [an] agreement”. Ukraine’s military said it had noted withdrawals around the two cities that appeared to confirm the minister’s statement.
This is an extraordinary development that owes more to the damage inflicted on the Russian military than the search for a peaceful settlement, though the two are connected. The Kremlin now seems to have confined its territorial demands to the annexation of the Donbas region. President Putin will also insist on holding onto the Crimean peninsula and the demilitarisation of Ukraine.
For its part, Ukraine is seeking to maintain its territorial integrity while accepting a neutral status guaranteed by the US, Britain and Turkey. There are indications that some EU countries will urge Volodymyr Zelensky to agree to Russian demands to bring the Ukraine war to an end.
It is not for them to bargain away his country. It is for the Ukrainians to decide, possibly through a referendum which has been mooted. To uphold the principle of self-determination under the UN charter, we should support them whatever conclusion they reach.