NEBI KEN and JURAS POCKETS

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia announced on Tuesday that it would “fundamentally” cut off military operations near the Ukrainian capital and northern city as talks on ending a brutal war outlined a possible deal.

Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Famin said the change on the battlefield was aimed at boosting confidence in the talks after several rounds of talks failed to stop what had escalated into a bloody campaign of exhaustion.

The statement was met with skepticism by the United States and others.

While Moscow showed this as a gesture of goodwill, its ground forces threatened and suffered heavy losses in their attempt to capture Kyiv and other cities. Last week and again on Tuesday, the Kremlin seemed to have curtailed its military goals, saying its “main goal” now is to gain control of the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he saw nothing to suggest that the talks were “constructive,” and suggested that Russia’s signs of retreat could be Moscow’s attempt to “deceive people and distract.”

“There is what Russia is saying, and there is what Russia is doing, and we are focusing on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continuing brutality of Ukraine.”

He added: “If they somehow believe that attempts to subjugate only the eastern part of Ukraine or the southern part of Ukraine … can succeed, then they are again deeply deceiving themselves.”

Even as negotiators from both sides gathered in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces struck an oil depot in western Ukraine on Monday night and punched a hole in a nine-story government administration building in the southern port city of Nikolaev on Tuesday morning. The attack killed at least seven people, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“It’s awful. They waited for people to go to work, ”regional governor Vitaly Kim said before hitting the building. “I overslept. I was lucky. “

Famin said that Moscow had decided “in principle … to reduce military activity in Kiev and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” He did not immediately clarify what this would mean from a practical point of view.

The Ukrainian military said it had noted the withdrawal of some forces around Kyiv and Chernihiv. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN that “we have not seen anything that confirms” reports that Russia is withdrawing significant forces from Kiev. “But what we’ve seen over the last couple of days is that they’ve stopped trying to attack Kyiv.”

Rob Lee, a military expert at the U.S. Institute of Foreign Affairs, wrote on Twitter: “It’s more like acknowledging the situation around Kyiv, where Russia’s offensive has stopped for weeks and Ukrainian forces have recently succeeded. Russia does not have the strength to surround the city. “

Tuesday’s meeting in Istanbul was the first in two weeks of talks between Russia and Ukraine. Previous talks, held in person in Belarus or on video, have made no progress in ending more than a month-long war that has killed thousands and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including nearly 4 million who have fled the country.

Famin suggested that progress had been made this time, saying that “negotiations on a neutrality and non-nuclear status agreement for Ukraine, as well as on providing Ukraine with security guarantees, are moving to practical issues.”

Ukraine’s team has laid out a detailed basis for a peace deal that would keep the country neutral but secure by a group of third countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland, under an agreement similar to NATO’s “Attack One” principle. “It’s an attack on everyone.”

Ukraine has said it will also be ready to negotiate over a 15-year period on the future of the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula in 2014.

The Kremlin, among other things, demanded that Ukraine give up all hope of joining NATO, which it sees as a threat.

The head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky said on Russian television that the Ukrainian proposals are “a step towards us, a clear positive fact.” He warned that the parties were still far from an agreement, but said: “Now we know how to move forward to a compromise. We are not just celebrating the time in the negotiations. “

In other events:

– As a result of coordinated actions to combat Russian espionage, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Northern Macedonia have sent dozens of Russian diplomats.

– The head of the UN arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian troops have taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl station, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, and the current Zaporozhye station, whose building was damaged in the fighting.

– Russia destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near Kiev and in the east, the Ukrainian military said.

– Bloomberg has stated that it has suspended its activities in Russia and Belarus. Customers in the two countries will not be able to access Bloomberg’s financial products, the report said.

– Roman Abramovich, a longtime ally of Putin, who came under the sanctions of Great Britain and the European Union, was in the hall at the Istanbul talks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the owner of the Chelsea football team acts as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries. But the mystery of his role has been deepened by news reports that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks.

Over the past few days, Ukrainian forces have counterattacked and recaptured territory on the outskirts of Kiev and other areas. They have regained Irpen, a key suburb northwest of the capital Kyiv, Zelensky said late Monday night. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to retake the area.

Ukrainian forces also captured Trostyanets south of Sumy in the northeast after weeks of Russian occupation that left the devastated landscape.

Arriving in the city on Monday shortly thereafter, the Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers in the woods, while Russian tanks sat burned and twisted. A red “Z” indicates a Russian truck with a broken windshield near folded boxes of ammunition. Ukrainian forces on top of the tank flashed signs of victory. Stunned residents lined up among the charred buildings, seeking help.

Putin’s ground forces have been thwarted not only by stronger-than-expected resistance from Ukraine, but, according to Western officials, by Russian tactical mistakes, poor morale, lack of food, fuel and equipment for cold weather and other problems.

Reinforcing what the military said last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that the “liberation of Donbass” is now Moscow’s main task.

While this is a possible strategy for Putin’s face-off, it has also sparked fears in Ukraine that the Kremlin is seeking to split the country and force it to surrender part of its territory.

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Karmanov reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters around the world have contributed to this report.

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Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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