Negotiations mediated by Ankara are the first high-level contact between the two sides since Moscow’s invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor.
The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met for face-to-face talks in Turkey in the first high-level contact between the two sides since Moscow invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor last month.
Officials from Kyiv and Moscow have held several rounds of discussions, but the meeting on Thursday in the southern city of Antalya represents the first time Russia has sent a minister for discussions on the crisis.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba landed in Antalya for negotiations “on Russia ceasing its hostilities and ending its war against Ukraine”, foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko tweeted.
His Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov was also in Turkey.
Dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow has so far yielded numerous ceasefires and humanitarian corridors to evacuate residents, but Russia has been accused of breaching those agreements.
Kuleba said, in a Facebook video, his expectations were “limited” as Russia continues its bombing campaign and siege of major Ukrainian cities. The success of the discussions would depend on “what instructions and directives Lavrov is under” from the Kremlin.
“I am not pinning any great hopes on them, but we will try and get the most out of [the talks],” said Kuleba.
The meeting between Lavrov and Kuleba took place on the sidelines of a diplomacy forum near Antalya on Thursday. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also participated.
Cavusoglu has said the aim of the meeting is to pave the way for a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents, which would be facilitated by Turkey’s president.
Kuleba has also said he would propose direct talks between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents when he meets Lavrov.
‘A strong position’
Kuleba said his team would be “pressing for the maximum”.
“I will demand a ceasefire to liberate our territories, and of course to resolve the humanitarian issues, or rather catastrophes created by the Russian military,” he said.
“Owing to the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, as well as the coordinated actions with partners regarding sanctions, I am going to these negotiations in a strong position.”
Moscow has said it is ready for talks with Ukraine, but all of its demands – including that Kyiv takes a neutral position and drops aspirations of joining the NATO alliance – must be met to end its assault.
It is the first trip abroad for Lavrov since Russia was isolated by the Western world with biting sanctions that have also targeted President Vladimir Putin’s long-serving top diplomat.
Bringing Lavrov and Kuleba together marks “a step forward” and could escalate diplomacy at higher levels in Moscow, said Mustafa Aydin, professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.
“Russia is not yet close to entertaining peace, though it is slowly changing its stance,” Aydin said. “It's initially uncompromising posture is slowly giving way to a negotiation stance, though not yet enough for a concrete outcome.”
Soner Cagaptay, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, echoed the comments.
“I do not think that we will see a breakthrough in Antalya between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia … because I think this is really not a moment for Putin to accept humility and step down,” he said.
“But I think this is still a significant achievement for Turkish diplomats, the fact that they can get the foreign ministers of these two parties in brutal conflict to sit together around a table in a neutral location, it’s a very significant achievement. And we could get a short-term ceasefire out of this to allow for civilians to be evacuated. That would be even a bigger accomplishment.”