Ukraine Update: Possibility Of Putin-Zelensky And Putin-Biden Meeting

Putin Zelensky

Citing Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky, who leads the Russian delegation to the talks with Ukraine, an Istanbul, March 29 datelined media report said:

Russia has suggested a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zelensky, be organized concurrently with the initialing of a bilateral treaty by the two countries’ foreign ministers.

“After today’s meaningful conversation, we agreed and suggest a solution, under which a meeting between the heads of state is possible concurrently with the initialing of the treaty by the foreign ministers, the more so as during this initialing and consideration of the treaty’s details, it will be possible to discuss various political nuances and details,” Vladimir Medinsky said after the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul.

“So, if the work on the treaty and a required compromise proceeds swiftly, the possibility of peace will be much closer,” he added.

According to Medinsky, the Russia side said earlier that such a meeting would be possible when a treaty drafted by the negotiators and foreign ministers of the two countries was ready for signing. “The format was as follows: first, a treaty is drafted, then it is approved by the negotiators, signed by foreign ministers at a personal meeting, and only after that a possible meeting between the heads of state is organized to sign this treaty,” he said. “It is not a simple matter, the more so as it could be a multilateral meeting involving guarantor nations of peace and security in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Tuesday that news from the negotiations was “positive.” Zelensky said this in his nightly video address.

Russia To Decrease Military Activity In Direction Of Kiev And Chernigov

The Russian Defense Ministry has decided to cardinally decrease the military activity in the direction of Kiev and Chernigov, according to the military agency’s statement following Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul read out by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin.

“Due to the fact that the talks on preparing an agreement on Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status as well as on providing Ukraine with security guarantees are moving to the practical sphere, considering the principles discussed during the meeting today, in order to bolster mutual confidence and create the necessary conditions for the further talks and the achievement of the final goal – the coordination and the signing of the aforementioned agreement – the Russian Defense Ministry has made a decision to cardinally, several-fold decrease the military activity in the direction of Kiev and Chernigov,” he said.

“We are proceeding from the premise that Kiev will make corresponding basic decisions and conditions should be created for the further normal work,” the military official added.

However, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russia’s movement of troops away from the capital appeared to be minimal, and airstrikes continued to hit the capital Tuesday. Ukrainian officials had previously warned that Russian troops were withdrawing to Belarus only to regroup and could return.

Ukrainian forces have pushed toward the borders of the Chernihiv and Zhytomyr regions, north and west of Kyiv, according to Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander overseeing the defense of the capital.

Russian forces do not appear to have conducted significant operations in or immediately around this city, Ukraine’s second largest, in the past day, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank.

Outcome Of Istanbul Talks: Constructive

The Russian-Ukrainian talks that took place in Istanbul on Tuesday were constructive, the head of the Russian delegation, Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky, told reporters.

He said Moscow made two de-escalatory steps. One was offering to hold a meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zelensky simultaneously with the initialing of a peace treaty by their Foreign Ministries, or earlier than planned before. In the other step, Russian troops would drastically reduce their activities toward Kiev and Chernigov.

The talks were supposed to last two days – March 29 and 30, but sources in the Russian delegation and the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the round was over and the meeting on Wednesday was off.

The Russian delegation in Istanbul has received from their Ukrainian counterparts a “clearly phrased position,” Medinsky said. Kiev’s proposals, he said, will be studied in the near future and reported to the president, and then Moscow will come back with a response.

In addition, the official said, Russia is making two de-escalation steps, in the political and military areas. The first step is that Russia is offering Kiev to move forward the possible meeting between the countries’ leaders. While initially Putin and Zelensky were supposed to meet after their Foreign Ministries initial a peace treaty, now these two events are proposed to be held simultaneously.

The second step was announced by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin. “As the talks are moving on to the practical terms, the Russian Defense Ministry has decided to drastically reduce military activity toward Kiev and Chernigov,” he said.

Ukrainian Proposals

The Ukrainian written proposals include a ban on the production and deployment of weapons of mass destruction, as well as a ban on the deployment of foreign military bases in Ukraine, Medinsky told TASS.

He later told reporters that Kiev’s position also implies refusal to pursue a return of Crimea and Sevastopol to Ukraine by military force.

Alexander Chaly, a member of the Kiev delegation, said that Ukraine agreed to adopt a neutral and non-nuclear status if it were given security guarantees, which “in content and form should be similar to Article 5” of the North Atlantic Treaty.

According to him, the guarantees should envisage military assistance and the establishment of a no-fly area after three days of consultations in order to pursue a diplomatic solution.

The guarantors, according to Kiev, could include permanent members of the UN Security Council (including Russia), as well as Germany, Israel, Italy, Canada, Poland and Turkey. Their guarantees would not cover Crimea and Donbass, according to the head of the parliamentary faction of Ukraine’s ruling Servant of the People party, David Arakhamiya, who is taking part in the talks.

Kiev also demands that the guarantor countries help Ukraine join the European Union “as soon as possible”.

Dow jumps more than 300 points, oil prices fall after cease-fire negotiations

The Dow surged more than 300 points in Tuesday’s rally and oil prices dropped as cease-fire talks raised hopes of progress, with Ukraine outlining a peace proposal and Russia promising to drastically reduce its military activity near Kyiv.

Putin-Biden meeting Possible After De-escalation In Ukraine

A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden is possible only after a significant de-escalation in Ukraine, White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield told reporters on Tuesday.

“He said yesterday that he would be willing to meet with President Putin again or talk to him,” she said. “I’m not going to set preconditions for a conversation between President Biden and President Putin, except to say that we have been very clear and President Biden has been very clear that there needs to be tangible de-escalation from Russia and a clear, genuine commitment to diplomacy.”

On Monday, Biden said a new personal meeting with Putin was possible, adding that prospects for such talks would depend on their agenda.

Dialogue Between Russia And U.S. Necessary In Any Case, Says Kremlin

U.S. President Biden’s personal insults to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have a negative impact on relations between the two countries, but the dialogue between Moscow and Washington is necessary in any case, it is in the interests of the whole world, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

“Personal insults cannot but leave their mark on relations between heads of state. Especially personal insults, which in general should have no place in the rhetoric of the head of state,” the Kremlin spokesman said, “Of course, this factor has a negative impact.”

Nevertheless, Peskov continued, “dialogue between Russia and the United States is necessary in any case.” “It is needed not only in the interests of our two countries, but also in the interests of the whole world. One way or another, sooner or later we will have to talk about the issues of strategic stability, security and so on, in other words, those issues that only we can and should discuss,” he stated.

This is how the Kremlin spokesman answered to a question about whether Putin sees the need to meet with Biden, and whether he is in the mood to talk after the insults to his address. Earlier, the US president himself said he did not rule out the possibility of a new face-to-face meeting with the Russian president, but said the prospect of organizing potential talks depends on their agenda.

Recently, Biden has repeatedly made personal attacks and insults to his Russian counterpart. On March 26, during his visit to Warsaw, he claimed that “the man [Putin] cannot remain at power.” The White House later assured that the US leader was not calling for regime change in Russia. For his part, Peskov pointed out that it was not the American president who would decide who would be in power in Russia.

A number of Western politicians, including French President Emmanuel Macron, essentially distanced themselves from Biden’s remarks. The European Commission has proclaimed that the EU is not seeking to bring about a change in Russia’s leadership. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, commenting on the US president’s words, called for avoiding actions and rhetoric around Ukraine that lead to escalation. The British Times newspaper suggested that these remarks by the American leader may be the biggest gaffe he has made in more than half a century of his political career.

Over 22,500 Tonnes of Humanitarian Cargoes Ready To Be Dispatched To Ukraine

Russia has prepared more than 22,500 tonnes of food, medicines and daily essentials for Ukraine, Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said on Tuesday.

“Federal executive authorities jointly with Russian regions, various public organizations and patriotic movements continue to raise humanitarian assistance. More than 22,500 tonnes of food, medicines and daily essentials are ready to be dispatched,” he said.

West’s Unilateral Anti-Russian Sanctions Leading To Crisis Of Historic Scale

The West’s unilateral anti-Russian sanctions are leading to a global economic crisis of a historic scale, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said on Tuesday.

“The actual causes threatening the global food market with serious turbulence are not in Russia’s actions but rather is the unrestrained sanction hysteria the West has unleashed against Russia giving no thought either to the population of the countries of the so-called global south or to their own citizens. The attempt to isolate Russia economically, financially and logistically from the years-long cooperation channels is already entailing an economic crisis of the historic scale. It is clear even for an unsophisticated person that only the refusal from unilateral illegal restrictive measures can ease tensions in the transport and logistics, and financial ties, to ensure uninterrupted supplies and to stabilize international agricultural and food markets,” he said.

The West is demonstrating inconsistence and hypocrisy when it demands humanitarian pauses in Ukraine, Nebenzia said.

He noted that “many calls have been voiced [at the UNSC meeting] for a humanitarian ceasefire, for providing humanitarian access, for humanitarian pauses and humanitarian corridors.” “[UN] Secretary General [Antonio] Guterres came out with the corresponding initiatives yesterday,” he said.

“Colleagues, it is hard not to be astonished at your inconsistence,” he went on to say. “Last Wednesday, the majority [of UNSC] turned down Russia’s draft of a humanitarian resolution binding on all the parties with a concrete lots of steps to be made to resolve the humanitarian crisis, first of all in eastern Ukraine. Bearing this in mind, today’s statements, especially by the Western delegations, sound quite cynical.”

On March 3, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called sanctions “a kind of tax on independency.” He expressed confidence that the situation around Ukraine will be settled and “a solution will be found.”

UN Vehicles’ Participation In Ukrainian Military Action

Russia is seeking explanations into why a UN vehicle with diplomatic license plates was used in combat near the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, Nebenzya said.

“Good thing the UN Security Council eventually recognized such violations in Kharkov and Mariupol,” Nebenzya said. “We are expecting a response to our latest request, regarding a UN vehicle with diplomatic license plates DP210015 near Kharkov, which, according to eyewitnesses, took part in combat operations of Ukrainian nationalists.”

“We have also been informed about use of OSCE vehicles by nationalists,” Nebenzya added. “It is important that both organizations give a fair evaluation of similar facts.”

Medical Vehicles

Russia sees the possibility of Western weapons deliveries to Ukraine, carried out with the use of vehicles with medical symbols, Nebenzya said.

“We cannot rule out that under the guise of vehicles of those organizations [UN and OSCE], or vehicles with medical symbols, nearby countries may import weapons, which the West promised to Kiev so generously,” he said.

Kiev’s Crackdown On Public Activists

Russia is concerned by reports of the Kiev government’s crackdown on opposition journalists, politicians and public figures, Nebenzya said.

“In the context of Ukrainian radicals and special services’ harsh treatment of their own citizens, we have serious concerns about the Kiev government’s ongoing purge of public figures, who are out of their favor,” he said.

As examples, Nebenzya mentioned the abduction of civil activist Yelena Berezhnaya and reports about disappearances of opposition politician Vasily Volgin, political analysts Dmitry Dzhangirov and Yuri Dudkin, journalists Dmitry Skvortsov and Yuri

Ukrainian Nationalists Torturing Captive Russian Servicemen

On Monday, videos emerged on the Internet purportedly showing Ukrainian radical nationalists torturing captive Russian servicemen. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that those involved in the torture of Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine must be held accountable for their actions.

UN Food Chief Warns Of ‘Devastation’

A Reuters report said:

The UN food chief warned on Tuesday that the war in Ukraine was threatening to devastate the World Food Programme’s efforts to feed some 125 million people globally because Ukraine had gone “from the breadbasket of the world to breadlines.”

“It’s not just decimating dynamically Ukraine and the region, but it will have global context impact beyond anything we have seen since World War Two,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley told the 15-member UN Security Council.

Beasley said 50% of the grain bought by the WFP comes from Ukraine, “so you can only assume the devastation that this is going to have on our operations alone.”

“The farmers are on the frontlines,” he said.

Beasley added that the crisis was compounded by a lack of fertilizer products coming from Belarus and Russia.

“If you do not put fertilizer on the crops, your yield will be at least 50% diminished. So we are looking at what could be a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe in the months ahead,” he told the council.

Beasley warned if the conflict in Ukraine was not ended, “the world will pay a mighty price and the last thing we want to be doing as the World Food Programme is taking food from hungry children to give to starving children.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected accusations that Moscow’s actions in Ukraine had caused the “serious turbulence” in the global food market, instead blaming Western sanctions on Russia.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the council sanctions were not fueling the global food crisis.

NATO’s Military Exercise In The Arctic

Another media report said:

As UK troops take part in the largest NATO exercise in Norway in 30 years, Ben Wallace, UK’s Defence Secretary on Monday night said Britain and its allies must strengthen their “unity and purpose as a defensive alliance”.

Troops from across Nato countries have been taking part in Exercise Cold Response, a major demonstration of the alliance’s strength in the Arctic region.

“The High North and Arctic are vital areas for the NATO Alliance to demonstrate our shared defences and support for wider European security,” said Wallace.

The exercise has included a reconnaissance mission by British commandos, who launched from a Royal Navy submarine in a Norwegian fjord.

Exercise Cold Response is running across March and April in Norway and the surrounding seas and involves around 30,000 troops from 27 countries in Europe and North America.

Lavrov Set To Visit India

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is set to fly to India this week, sources said.

There is little sign that India’s buying of Russian commodities will slow down any time soon, as more deals get signed. One source said the two countries could discuss smoothening trade payments disrupted by Western sanctions on Russian banks. Media have said he could hold talks in the Indian capital on Friday.

It will only be Lavrov’s third visit overseas since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, after a trip to Turkey for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart earlier this month and a scheduled meeting in China on Thursday.

India’s overall annual trade with Russia averaged about $9 billion in the past few years, mainly fertiliser and some oil. By comparison, India’s bilateral trade with China is more than $100 billion a year.

But given sharp discounts on Russian crude oil since the attack on Ukraine, India has bought at least 13 million barrels, compared with nearly 16 million barrels imported from the country for the whole of last year. Many European countries have also continued to buy Russian energy despite publicly criticising Moscow.

India is now considering doubling its imports of Russian coking coal used in making steel, the Indian steel minister said on Sunday.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that India recently contracted to buy 45,000 tonnes of Russian sunflower oil for April delivery after supplies from Ukraine stopped. Last year, India bought about 20,000 tonnes from Russia a month.

“India will import more items from Russia, especially if it is at a discount,” one senior Indian government official said.

The government has been looking to establish a rupee-rouble trade system and discussions between Indian and Russian financial officials are ongoing, said the source. All the sources declined to be named as the talks were private.

The Indian government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Besides the rupee-rouble trade window, several other options are on the cards, including settling all government and quasi-government payments directly through the central banks of the two countries, said the source.

“India has made up its mind to continue trading with Russia, one way or the other,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor of international studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“During the Russian foreign minister’s visit, the bureaucracy could definitely bring up the issue of how to continue looking for alternative mechanisms to smoothen trade relations between the two sides.”

Russia’s embassy in New Delhi said it could not confirm the visit. India’s foreign ministry said it had no information to share.

In a sign of sustained ties despite the Ukraine crisis, India is considering allowing Russia to use its funds lying with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to invest in Indian corporate bonds, said another Indian government source.

Russia has retained about 20 billion rupees ($263 million) of Indian payments for Russian defence equipment with the RBI.

But another Indian government official said New Delhi would have to diplomatically tackle pressure from the West to be able to maintain its ties with Russia.

Oil Slips As Russia-Ukraine Talks Spark Guarded Hopes

A Bloomberg report said:

Oil edged lower after Russia’s offer to cut back military operations around Ukraine’s capital offered a tenuous path forward for the two nations.

Futures in New York fell 1.6% on Tuesday, paring back substantially from a brief plummet below $100 a barrel earlier in the session. West Texas Intermediate futures sank more than 7% after Moscow said it would reduce military operations near Kyiv and signaled a willingness to consider a presidential meeting between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Japan To Ban Russia-bound Exports Of Gold

A Reuters report said:

Japan will ban the shipment to Russia of precious metals, especially gold, the Ministry of Finance said on Tuesday.

The ban on Russia-bound precious metal reflects Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s resolve to impose further sanctions against the country, pledged at last week’s meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) advanced nations.

From April 5, Japan will ban the export of precious metals such as gold as well as other items including luxury cars, jewellery, cosmetics and liquor.

Japan’s move comes after the United States and Britain took steps to curtail transactions in gold with Russia.

Russia-bound exports of gold would require pre-approval by Japan’s finance minister, as the new rule starts to take place on April 5, government officials said.

Kishida has announced plans to revoke Russia’s most-favored-nation trading status, which could lead to higher tariffs on its imports, as well as a ban on certain imports from Russia.

Japan has also frozen the assets of more than 100 Russian individuals and organisations, and is considering extending financial regulations to Japan-based crypto-currency exchanges.

Tokyo has walked a fine line regarding its energy supplies from Russia, stressing the strategic importance of oil and gas projects in eastern Russia, in which the government and Japanese firms hold stakes.

Britain Revises Its Sanctions Guidance

Britain revised its sanctions guidance on Friday to make clear that British entities cannot help Moscow sell its gold reserves, while the US Treasury Department said a day earlier that gold-related transactions involving Russia may be sanctionable by US authorities.

Neutral Swiss Adopt More EU Sanctions Against Russia

A Reuters report from Zurich said:

Neutral Switzerland had adopted more EU sanctions against Russia, the cabinet said on Friday, keeping the country in line with EU measures it has decided to embrace in a departure from its traditional neutrality.

The decision means the export of goods and related services for the Russian energy sector is now prohibited, the government said in a statement.

“Also prohibited is the participation in businesses active in the energy sector and the provision of loans or other financial resources to such businesses,” it added.

Under the measures, imports of iron and steel goods from Russia or originating in Russia are banned, as is the export of luxury goods and maritime navigation goods to Russia.

In the financial sector, transactions with certain state-owned companies and the provision of credit rating services are prohibited.

“This means that all measures contained in the EU’s fourth package of sanctions have been implemented,” the government said.

It added it had decided not to implement the EU measure of March 1 blocking Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today.

Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Handing Out Rubles

The Kyiv Independent reported that Russian forces in Henichesk, which is part of Kherson oblast, have been issuing pensions in rubles. The newspaper cited a Facebook post from Sergey Khlan, whom it describes as a regional council member.

“After compiling the lists last week, the actual payments of 10,000 rubles began in Henichesk,” Khlan wrote, according to a translation of his Facebook post. “People are standing in line and already receiving cash on hand. However, the entire movement of the ruble ends in exchange offices, in which retirees immediately exchange rubles for hryvnia.”

A payment of 10,000 rubles was worth about $113 as of Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Marines Dispatched To Lithuania

Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been deployed to Lithuania after completing a training assignment in Norway, the Pentagon said Tuesday, as the United States again bolstered security in an Eastern European country bordering Russia.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Marines include a headquarters unit from Cherry Point, N.C., that recently completed the military exercise Cold Response 2022. About 10 F/A-18 jets from Beaufort, S.C., and their associated pilots and maintenance staff, and a couple of C-130 cargo planes also will go to Eastern Europe.

Poland Blocks Russian Information

Russian Ambassador to Poland Sergey Andreyev on Tuesday said Polish news media report fakes by Ukrainian spin doctors about Russia’s special operation in Ukraine but have built a brick wall for the Russian take on the events.

“All that is reported and forces are not equal, meaning that the entire information space is fully occupied by Western news media, while information from Russia runs into such a hard blockade that practically nothing gets through,” the ambassador said.

He said there was practically no room left in Poland for “any alternative opinions that do not fit into the politically correct, as they believe, representation of events in the world and in Ukraine,” Andreyev said. “There’s an unspoken ban on dissent,” he said.

U.S. Views Russia As ‘Acute Threat’

The U.S. government views Russia as an ‘acute threat,’ Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby has told reporters.

When asked whether the Pentagon was still viewing Russia as a ‘near-peer competitor,’ the spokesman replied: “I think, you can take away from what we talked about yesterday, when we released the [draft] budget [for the next fiscal year]. We talked about Russia as an acute threat. That’s how we are looking at Russia right now.”

The Department of Defense transmitted the classified 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) to the U.S. Congress on Monday. According to comments to the document, the Pentagon believes that Russia is presenting an ‘acute threat’ to the U.S., including due to its special operation in Ukraine. At the same time, the document identifies China as “our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge.” The unclassified part of the document is expected to be published later.

‘We’re going to still need more’: U.S. commander on U.S. military presence in Europe after Ukraine conflict

Gen. Tod Wolters, head of the United States European Command, foreshadowed actions the U.S. may take in Europe, not during the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, but after that conflict plays out.

Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that while U.S. forces in Europe have increased from 60,000 to 100,000 due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, he expects that the U.S. will need another increase when it is over.

“I think what we need to do from a U.S. force perspective is look at what takes place in Europe following the completion of the Ukraine-Russia scenario and examine the European contributions and based of the breadth and depth of the European contributions, be prepared to adjust the U.S. contributions,” Wolters said in response to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “And my suspicion is we’re going to still need more.”

In addition to increasing the number of forces, Wolters said the U.S. will have to examine their intelligence capabilities in the region. When Wicker asked if there was an “intelligence gap” that led to the U.S. overestimating the Russians and underestimating the Ukrainians going into the conflict, Wolters admitted that “there could be.”

“As we’ve always done in the past,” Wolters continued, “when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments and find out where are weak areas were and make sure we can find ways to improve, and this could be one of those areas.”


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