Ukraine-Russia peace deal ‘close’, says Turkey despite western scepticism

A peace deal between Russia and Ukraine is “close”, Turkey’s foreign minister has claimed, as the UN reported that at least 902 civilians have been killed in the four weeks of the war.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, whose government has been acting as a “mediator and facilitator”, said there was “momentum” behind the negotiations despite the scepticism of western governments.

Kyiv was said to be willing to change its constitution to abandon aspirations to join Nato but wants Turkey, Germany and the five permanent members of the UN security council to act as guarantors of any deal.

Çavuşoğlu, who visited Russia and Ukraine this week to meet his counterparts, said: “Of course, it is not an easy thing to come to terms with while the war is going on, while civilians are killed, but we would like to say that momentum is still gained … We see that the parties are close to an agreement.”

The UN’s human rights office said on Sunday that at least 902 civilians had been killed and 1,459 injured as of midnight on 19 March, with the real toll likely to be much higher.

Most of the casualties were from explosive weapons such as shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, the OHCHR said. It has not been able to receive or verify casualty reports from several badly hit cities including Mariupol.

Ukraine’s government claims that among the dead are 112 children.

While western officials believe the negotiators on either side are serious about the ongoing negotiations there is doubt about whether Vladimir Putin is sincere about wanting peace.

Speaking on Sunday, the British chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said it was “encouraging” that the talks were continuing but that the west needed to have a “degree of scepticism”.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that despite the doubts he would continue to try to find a compromise with the Kremlin.

He told CNN: “I’m ready for negotiations. I was ready for the last two years. And without negotiations we cannot end this war.

“All the people who think that this dialogue is shallow, and that it is not going to resolve anything, they just don’t understand that this is very valuable. If there is just 1% chance for us to stop this war we need to take this chance, we need to do that.

“I can’t tell you about the result of these negotiations [but] we’re losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground. Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us. And we have demonstrated the dignity of our people and our army, we are able to deal a powerful blow, we are able to strike back.

“But unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve their lives. We have to use any format, any chance, in order to have the possibility of negotiating the possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.”

An official in Zelenskiy’s office told the Associated Press that the main subject discussed between the two sides last week was whether Russian troops would remain in the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told Sky News that redrawing Ukraine‘s borders is “absolutely not” being considered by Kyiv in a sign of the major obstacles in the way of a deal.

She said: “Ukrainian territory is a territory which has been fixed [since] 1991. That is not an option for discussion.”

In an interview with daily HurriyetHürriyet, İbrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said six points were the focus of the talks.

They are Ukraine‘s neutrality, disarmament and security guarantees, the so-called “de-Nazification” of the country, removal of obstacles on the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, the status of the breakaway Donbas region and Crimea which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

Turkey said it was ready to host a meeting between Zelenskiy and Putin which has been called for by Ukraine’s president. “We are working day and night for peace,” Çavuşoğlu said.

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