Russia said it would “drastically reduce” its military assault on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv after talks took place between representatives of the two nations on Tuesday that appeared to show signs of progress towards an off ramp to the conflict.
The Russian defense ministry has decided to “radically, at times, reduce military activity” in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv, deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin said, state media RIA reported. The ministry’s Telegram channel also said that Moscow would “drastically reduce military activity” in the cities.
The announcement comes after Ukrainian and Western intelligence assessments suggested in recent days that Russia’s advance on Kyiv was stalling.
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday covered an array of important issues, including the future of the eastern Donbas region, the fate of Crimea, a broad alliance of security guarantors and a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Fomin told reporters that the ongoing discussions regarding the “neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine” had contributed to the decision. More details on the steps to reduce hostilities will follow after the Russian delegation returns from Istanbul, Fomin said in remarks carried by Russian state news agency TASS.
Despite the announcement, intense fighting continued around the suburbs of Kyiv on Tuesday afternoon, especially in the northwest and northeast of the city.
Ukraine echoed the announcement regarding the reduction in military action, saying some Russian troops were pulling back from Kyiv and Chernihiv.
“The Russian enemy did not meet the goal of its offensive operation,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an official Facebook update Tuesday, adding that “certain units” of Russia’s military were withdrawing from battlefronts in the cities.
However it warned of a “high risk” of Russian troops attacking military and civilian infrastructure. The Russian military, it claimed, was struggling to reinforce and rotate in new soldiers, due to the “refusal of personnel to participate in the so-called special operation,” and are “not able to staff even one battalion-tactical group.”
Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia’s operations around Kyiv had failed and it was now impossible for the Russian army to overthrow the Ukrainian government. Putin’s war is now focused on the south and the east of the country, he said.
“There is reason to believe that he is considering a ‘Korean’ scenario for Ukraine,” said Budanov. “That is, [Russian forces] will try to impose a dividing line between the unoccupied and occupied regions of our country. In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine.”
Still, enough progress was made during Tuesday’s talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations to allow Putin and Zelensky to meet, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.