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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alexei Alexandrov A man walking his dog near a damaged apartment building on the outskirts of Mariupol in Ukraine yesterday.
# Ukraine
Scepticism over Russian pledge to de-escalate campaign around Kyiv after 'positive' peace talks
Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said the country would “radically, by several times reduce the military activity” around Kyiv and Chernigiv.

UKRAINE AND WESTERN allies are today waiting for signs Moscow is “radically” reducing military activity around Kyiv, as promised in peace talks, with scepticism high after Washington warned Russian troops were being repositioned and not withdrawn.

Both sides called talks in Istanbul “meaningful” and “positive”, in sharp contrast to previous rounds of discussions, raising hopes after more than a month of war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said there was progress on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status” of Ukraine – two central Russian concerns.

He said Russia would “radically, by several times reduce the military activity” around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernigiv.

But the pledge was met with scepticism in Ukraine and Western capitals, with the Pentagon saying Russia had merely repositioned a “small number” of forces near Kyiv, but could be preparing a “major offensive” elsewhere.

The “vast majority” of Russian forces around Kyiv remained in place, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“We’ve only seen a small number begin to move away from Kyiv, mostly to the north.

“Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv,” the Pentagon spokesman added, but “it does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over”.

Ukraine’s military also warned the withdrawal of Russian troops around Kyiv and Chernigiv “is probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead”.

On the ground overnight, air raid sirens sounded several times in the Ukrainian capital and continued into the morning.

‘We’ll see if they follow through’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described “positive” signs from the Istanbul talks, which are expected to continue via video, but said there were no plans to let down defences.

The signals “do not drown out the explosions or Russian shells”, he said in a video address yesterday, urging no talk of lifting sanctions on Moscow until the war is over.

Ukraine’s Western allies said they had no plans to ease measures taken to punish Russia for the invasion.

“We’ll see if they follow through on what they’re suggesting,” US President Joe Biden said after speaking with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, who vowed no let-up in sanctions.

Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands yesterday announced 42 Russian diplomats would be told to leave, with Moscow in turn expelling 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov is not among those being expelled but the Department of Foreign Affairs said he was summoned to the department and told of the decision. 

The face-to-face talks in Istanbul marked the first sign of progress in discussions to end the war, with Kyiv’s negotiator David Arakhamia saying there were “sufficient” conditions for Zelenskyy to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Optimism over the apparent progress sent European and US stock markets up, while oil prices fell by 5% as supply fears eased, and the ruble surged 10% against the dollar.

Moscow had already signalled last weekend that it was dialling back its war goals, focusing its military resources on capturing the eastern Donbas region.

In recent days, Ukraine’s fighters have recaptured territory including the strategic Kyiv suburb of Irpin, and Britain’s defence ministry said overnight “it is almost certain that the Russian offensive has failed in its objective to encircle Kyiv”.

“It is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions [of Donbas] in the east,” the ministry said.

‘Death everywhere’

Some 20,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far, according to Zelenskyy, though the number of casualties could not be independently verified.

Yesterday a Russian missile strike on the southern town of Mykolaiv left at least 12 dead and 33 wounded, Ukrainian officials said.

There was also no progress for the estimated 160,000 people still trapped with little food, water or medicine in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces have encircled the city and their steady and indiscriminate bombardment has killed at least 5,000 people, but possibly as many as 10,000, according to one senior Ukrainian official.

France, Greece and Turkey have been trying to organise a mass evacuation of civilians from the city, but talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin ended yesterday without a deal.

© AFP 2022

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