Vladimir Putin to withdraw troops and turn military focus to overwhelming the Donbas as Ukraine offers neutrality deal
ByJames Crisp, EUROPE EDITOR ; James Kilner and Tony Diver, WHITEHALL CORRESPONDENT30 March 2022 •
Members of Ukraine’s Volunteer Corps use a howitzer to fight against Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia regionCREDIT: Stanislav Yurchenk/Reuters
Vladimir Putin has failed in his plan to capture Kyiv, with Moscow on Tuesday pledging to withdraw forces from the Ukrainian capital.
Russia claimed the withdrawal from Kyiv and the city of Chernihiv was to build trust in “constructive” peace negotiations.
Talks in Istanbul broke up on Tuesday after Ukraine offered to make itself permanently neutral if the UK, other Western powers and China provided military protection from future Russian aggression. But hours later, heavy shelling resumed in Kyiv.
Ukraine offered to make itself permanently neutral if the UK, other Western powers and China provided military protection from Russian aggression.
Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s chief negotiator, claimed Moscow did not want to “put Kyiv at military risk” because people whose decisions could bring peace, such as Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, were there.
But he said “de-escalation does not mean a ceasefire” and warned that there was still “a long way to go” before a deal could be signed.
Mr Zelensky on Tuesday night urged the world not to trust any Russian promises as fresh explosions rocked the capital.
“Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we don’t have a reason to trust the words of representatives of a country that wages war against us,” he said. “Ukrainians are not naive.”
Boris Johnson said Putin could still seek to “twist the knife” despite Russia’s faltering invasion as the Cabinet decided to step up military aid to Ukraine.
After a call with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy, Joe Biden, the US president, said the West would “keep strong the sanctions” while following Moscow’s next moves.
Washington believes the withdrawal of troops from near Kyiv is merely a redeployment after the Russian invasion became bogged down in the north of the country.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said Russia’s “brutalisation” of Ukraine “continues as we speak”.
US officials warned that the world should be prepared for more major offensives elsewhere.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Russia had “failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv” but cautioned that the capital remained surrounded.
Putin’s close ally General Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said the army’s priority was now the “liberation” of the Donbas in the east of the country, where two Russian-backed rebel regions broke away from Ukraine in 2014.
A Western official said the Russians were reinforcing the Donbas with battalion tactical groups to “envelop” Ukrainian forces in the area.
Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader, said the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic would consider joining Russia once it controlled the whole Donetsk region.
Ukrainian forces have recently appeared to make significant territorial gains around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson. They pushed Russian forces back from around Kyiv, including in the nearby town of Irpin, an important gateway to the capital.
“Our men crushed them and forced them to get back, so we will celebrate,” said Volkov Kostiantyn, a Kyiv resident. “But no alcohol until the war ends. Just coffee.”
Russia still posed a “significant threat” to the city through its “strike capability”, Western officials warned, while Moscow is expected to leave forces dug in around Kyiv to prevent Ukraine from shifting forces east to protect the Donbas.
Alexander Fomin, the Russian deputy defence minister, said that “in order to increase mutual trust, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions“.
“They were forced to do that. That is just face-saving,” said Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary. “I think what it is is an admission you can’t occupy Ukraine in its totality in the way they had wanted to.”
Heavy fighting continued in the besieged city of Mariupolin the south east, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.
Ukraine said 12 people were killed in a Russian strike against the regional government headquarters in Mykolaiv, adding to a death toll estimated at 20,000 so far. Vitaliy Kim, the regional governor, said he survived the attack because he overslept.
Meanwhile, Russian state new agency Tass reported that a shell hit a temporary military camp near the border with Ukraine late on Tuesday, citing a source suggesting it had been fired from the Ukrainian side. Video posted online appeared to show ammunition blowing up outside the city of Belgorod.
Royal Air Force jets could impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine under the proposed terms of a peace offer made by Kyiv to Moscow on Tuesday on what was described as the most significant day of negotiations so far.
Kyiv proposed a deal that would mean Britain, the United States, China, France, Turkey, Germany, Poland and Israel would be legally obliged to defend a neutral Ukraine from future Russian aggression.
If necessary, they would provide Kyiv with “military assistance, armour and the closure of the sky over Ukraine”, officials said. None of the named countries has publicly responded.
“We want an international mechanism of security guarantees where guarantor countries will act in a similar way to Nato’s article number five – and even more firmly,” David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian negotiator, told reporters. Article five obliges Nato allies to consider an attack on one to be an attack on them all.
In return, Ukraine would become permanently neutral, meaning it would never join Nato, develop nuclear weapons or host foreign military bases on its territory. Oleksandr Chaly, Ukraine’s negotiator, said security guarantees involving members of Nato and the UN Security Council were “a possible format for ending the war”.
Nato leaders including Mr Johnson and Mr Biden have repeatedly ruled out Mr Zelensky’s calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine for fear of triggering a war between Russia and the alliance.
Ukraine proposes sidestepping the question of the breakaway territories in the eastern Donbas region. In order for the security guarantees to come into force quickly, the accord would “temporarily exclude” these areas.
It calls for negotiations over the status of Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, over the next 15 years without either side resorting to military force. Kyiv has other conditions, including the red line that “nothing and nobody will block Ukraine’s accession to the EU“.
The eventual peace deal must be agreed in a referendumheld under conditions of “full peace”, Ukraine said as it demanded a ceasefire.
“If we succeed in enshrining these provisions, Ukraine will be ready to enshrine its status as a nuclear-free and non-aligned country in the form of permanent neutrality,” Mr Chaly said.
Russia’s negotiator said Moscow was “ready to consider” the plans and would give “counter-proposals”. Putin has demanded that Ukraine never joins Nato, recognition for Crimea and a new status for the breakaway regions of the Donbas.
Following the peace talks, European stock markets lifted and oil prices fell by five per cent as supply fears eased, while the rouble surged 10 per cent against the dollar.
The talks were attended by Roman Abramovich, despite allegations that the oligarch was poisoned at an earlier round of negotiations.
Meanwhile, Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian-born businessman, insisted he had “nothing to hide” as he backed the publication of security advice linked to his appointment to the House of Lords.
MPs voted to approve a Labour motion seeking to force the Government to release documents about Mr Johnson’s involvement in the appointment. Lord Lebedev released a congratulatory text from Keir Starmer at the time of his ennoblement “in the spirit of transparency”.
Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic on Tuesday expelled 45 Russian spies posing as diplomats in a coordinated attempt to pile more pressure on Moscow.
Here’s what should happen but of course won’t :
Mechanized forces provided by the Budapest signatories must now move into Kyiv and Lviv oblasts to ensure that no further incursion is possible by the putinazis.
This will then free off some of the defenders of Kyiv to help their comrades in Donbas.
“Boris Johnson said Putin could still seek to “twist the knife” despite Russia’s faltering invasion as the Cabinet decided to step up military aid to Ukraine.”
Increase military support tenfold right now. Plus: NFZ.
Now, Ukraine should send reinforcements to Mariupol asap. Of course, it must stand guard around Kyiv in case mafia land’s retreat is a ruse.