Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine before dawn on Tuesday as Ukrainian and Russian negotiators met in Turkey for the first face-to-face talks in nearly three weeks, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on territory or sovereignty, according to Reuters.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan welcomed delegations from both sides saying that “stopping this tragedy” was up to them.
Ukrainian television reported the talks had begun with “a cold welcome” and no handshake between the delegations.
Ukraine and the United States hold little hope of an immediate breakthrough. But the resumption of face-to-face talks is an important first step towards a ceasefire in a Russian invasion that is stalled on most fronts but inflicting horrible suffering on civilians trapped in besieged cities.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said of the talks in Turkey: “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty.”
“The minimum programme will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum programme is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said on national television.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to make compromises to end the war.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said talks so far had not yielded any substantial progress but it was important they continued in person.
Footage from inside the Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul where the talks took place showed Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in attendance, though it was not immediately clear in what role. Abramovich appears to have tried to act as a go-between, including during a trip to Ukraine early in the conflict when he and several Ukrainian negotiators are said to have fallen ill.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had struck a large fuel depot in the Rivne region of western Ukraine overnight, a long distance from any fighting.
“The enemy continues to vilely carry out missile and bomb strikes in an attempt to completely destroy the infrastructure and residential areas of Ukrainian cities,” the Ukraine military’s general staff said. „(They) focus on fuel storage facilities in order to complicate logistics and create the conditions for a humanitarian crisis.”
In an address on Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated calls for the West to go further in punishing Moscow for its invasion.
While Western countries have imposed hard-hitting sanctions upon Moscow, Europe is heavily reliant on energy imports from Russia and has been so far reluctant to act to block them.
U.S. and German government officials are due to meet in Berlin this week with energy industry executives to discuss ways to boost alternative supplies for Germany. The Kremlin has demanded the West pay for Russian gas in roubles, not euros, but is trying to decide a mechanism for this.