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Negotiators from Russia and Ukraine meet face to face for the first time in weeks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The latest peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are over for today. And we have news today that Russia is changing its public stance on the war. These talks are taking place in Istanbul, Turkey. And there, a Russian deputy defense minister said that Russian forces will cut back their military operations around the capital, Kyiv. Russia, as you may recall, has stalled in its efforts to take Kyiv anyway.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is covering the talks in Istanbul. Hey there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How far did these talks really get?

KENYON: Well, some interesting proposals from all sides. It started with the Turkish president wishing them success, saying, let's end this tragedy. It's in no one's interest. And then the negotiations began. Ukraine came forward with some significant proposals, and so did Russia. And there's going to have to be some studying and responding to do now.

INSKEEP: What is this Russian proposal to back away from Kyiv, and what exactly does it mean?

KENYON: Well, when the negotiations finished, both sides came out and did separate news conferences. And in the Russian appearance, the negotiators said they would de-escalate around Kyiv, the capital, and also Chernihiv, and they would be doing that to focus attention on the talks, to build mutual trust and create the right conditions for a peace agreement. That's seen as a significant boost for the talks and how important the Russians at least seem to be taking them.

INSKEEP: Although I guess we should note that Russia already had backed away from Kyiv and said in a completely different context that they were planning to focus their military forces in the East, in a different part of the country. Nevertheless, they make this statement in the context of these peace talks. So what is it that Ukrainian leaders have been putting on the table?

KENYON: Well, from the Ukrainian side, they're saying basically, OK, Russia wants security guarantees. We can work on that. But so do we. We want our own guarantees. We want eight guarantor nations to ensure that any peace agreement is implemented and held to. And at the same time, President Zelenskyy, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was saying in an address to the Dutch parliament that Russia's been committing war crimes in Mariupol. Ninety percent of the buildings were destroyed. The foreign minister says there's no negotiation on lands or sovereignty. He wants humanitarian corridors for families trying to escape. And of course, they want a full cease-fire and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops.

INSKEEP: The no negotiation on land or sovereignty becomes awkward because Russian troops are not only on areas that they have invaded in the last few weeks. They possess large parts of Ukraine that Russia took in 2014.

KENYON: Absolutely. They have controlled that for eight years now, and now they have quite a bit more territory. It's annexed Crimea, actually - hasn't been recognized widely, and there's a lot of pro-Russian sentiment in that part of eastern Ukraine, too. So it has military control over considerably more territory now, as you say, not the capital. And Kyiv, not surprisingly, is not willing to reward this invasion with territorial concessions.

INSKEEP: Peter, tell me a little bit about the setting for all of this, Turkey, and the role that Turkey would like to be playing as a NATO ally that's also a near neighbor of Russia.

KENYON: Turkey really wants to be seen as a peacemaker here. It wants to keep good relations with both Ukraine and Russia. I mean, it has been selling armed drones to Ukraine, but President Erdogan wants to keep ties with Putin. And economics plays a big role here because a large number of Russian visitors come to Turkey every summer, and they help keep the tourism sector afloat. So the economic pain, were this to go south, could be bad for Turkey.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.