Ukraine Cool on Talk of Putative Putin Pivot

The next round of one-on-one talks between Kyiv and Moscow will take place in Istanbul March 28-30. Talks earlier this month floundered faster than the notion that the Oscars could be apolitical.

A Ukrainian serviceman looks out from a tank at the village of Lukyanivka, Kiev region, March 27, 2022. AP

ATHENS — With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now well into its second month, it is looking highly unlikely that the coming days will see anything like an easy exit from the new European quagmire. 

Yes, there is a new round of peace talks in the offing, as a Ukrainian negotiator, David Arakhamia, said Sunday that the next round of one-on-one talks between Kyiv and Moscow will take place in Istanbul March 28-30. Yet talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey in the Turkish resort town of Antalya earlier this month floundered faster than the notion that the Oscars could be apolitical.

In the meantime, the mayor of Mariupol said that “thousands” have been killed in his city. Vadym Boychenko told the local UNIAN news agency that the city “is encircled and that circle is of course shrinking” and that Mariupol “needs a complete evacuation.”

Russia’s resident despot, Vladimir Putin, has tragically invested a lot of blood and treasure in Ukraine, and because of that probably won’t be swayed to hit the brakes in eastern Ukraine or anywhere else in the country anytime soon, despite some recent reports to the contrary. In an interview with Ukrainian news site NV over the weekend, an advisor to Ukraine’s interior minister, Vadym Denysenko, said that it is “too early to talk about the Russians’ refusal to storm Kyiv.”

That statement would appear to contradict some widely publicized remarks from the deputy chief of the Russian general staff, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi, who said late last week that his forces had largely achieved the “main objectives” of the first phase of what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. General Rudskoi said Russian forces had “considerably reduced” the combat power of the Ukrainian military, and as a result could “focus on the main efforts to achieve the main goal, liberation of Donbas.”

Those comments do not exactly square up Mr. Denysenko’s assertion: “In fact, no one has yet refused to storm Kyiv. Apparently, so far they have, so to speak, a little postponed the plan.” 

He did also say that “now the most important thing for them is Mariupol, Izyum, and this triangle — Severodonetsk-Lysychansk-Rubizhne.” He added: “In fact, they do not have the strength now. But at the same time, we understand that they are withdrawing their units to the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.”

On the heels of the comments came a separate warning on Sunday from Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, who said that Russia might attempt to split Ukraine into halves. 

Kyrylo Budanov said in remarks released by the defense ministry on Sunday that Mr. Putin has realized “he can’t swallow the entire country” and that “the occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine.” 

Mr. Budanov pointed to Russian attempts to set up parallel government structures in occupied cities, AP reported, and to bar people from using the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia. He also said that such a shift in Russian military tactics would see Ukrainian resistance amplify to total guerilla warfare against Moscow.

A new assessment from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War echoes the cautious sentiments of Ukraine’s top military brass. “Russian activities around Kyiv show no change in the Russian high command’s prioritization of the fight around Ukraine’s capital, which continues to occupy the largest single concentration of Russian ground forces in Ukraine,” according an ISW statement Saturday. “The Russians have not claimed to redeploy forces from Kyiv or any other part of Ukraine to concentrate on fighting in Donbas,” that assessment said. 

That was echoed by Britain’s former national security adviser, Lord Ricketts, who said that an “angry stalemate” with a low-level guerrilla war is the most likely outcome of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Times of London reported. Pessimistic about opportunities for a ceasefire, Lord Ricketts said. “It is increasingly resembling the worst days of the Second World War.” 

In luxury timepiece news, agents of the Russian secret service have confiscated millions of dollars’ worth of Audemars Piguet watches in Moscow, a Swiss magazine reported, apparently to retaliate for Swiss sanctions banning luxury goods exports. Switzerland, as the Guardian reminds, abandoned its traditional neutral stance and followed other Western governments in imposing sanctions banning the export of luxury goods to Russia earlier this month in response to the invasion of Ukraine. 

A single Audemars Piguet watch can cost nearly a million dollars. No word on whether you can still shop for a more wallet-friendly Swatch in Moscow, should for some reason your travels take you there.


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