Kiev and Moscow discuss 15-point peace plan that could end war

Diplomatic efforts continue as the situation for Ukrainian civilians continues to worsen and Russia becomes the first country to leave the Council of Europe in more than seven decades

AP/EFREM LUKATSKY  -   A woman reacts in front of a destroyed apartment building after shelling in a residential area in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The 21st day since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory comes to an end with the hopeful prospect of a real rapprochement between Kiev and Moscow. According to the British Financial Times, the negotiations between the leaders of the two powers - who already this morning spoke of "some hope", as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it, and of "more realism", according to Zelenski - could result in a 15-point peace plan that would halt the development of the war. 

Optimism about the direction of the talks follows a sixth round of talks held by videoconference this morning, and after President Volodymir Zelensky renounced Ukraine's NATO membership. And now this optimism could materialise with the adoption of a draft that has as a fundamental point the guarantee of Kiev's neutrality, which would imply not hosting foreign military bases. All of this in exchange for the protection of third countries, such as Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, and the maintenance of its own armed forces.

"We understand our partners' attempt to remain proactive in the negotiation process, hence the words about the 'Swedish' or 'Austrian' neutrality model," said Zelenski's advisor Mikhail Podoliak, calling for a "home-grown" neutrality model. "Ukraine is currently at war with Russia. Therefore, the model can only be 'Ukrainian' and only for legally verified 'security guarantees'. And there are no other models or options. 

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI - Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

As a result, the peace plan would envisage the full and complete withdrawal of Russian troops from any territory occupied in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion, although the issue of pro-Russian territories in the Donbas and the nature of Western guarantees on Ukrainian security could still pose a strong obstacle to the adoption of the agreement. 

Positions across Ukrainian political lines, meanwhile, are less clear on the peace plan. This was expressed by Mikhail Podoliak on the social network Twitter, where he stated that the advances published by the Financial Times only reflect Russian requests, as Ukraine's position has yet to be confirmed. 

In this scenario, the possibility of a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents seems, for the time being, still distant. Despite the willingness of both sides to negotiate, the Kremlin has assured that Putin is not going to "meet for the sake of meeting", but that the summit should be conditional on the adoption of an agreement. As Sergey Lavrov said after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu: "Our president has repeatedly stated that he will not prevent such a meeting from taking place. However, these meetings should not be just for the sake of meeting. Some agreement has to be reached. 

AFP/ARIS MESSINIS - Firefighters put out a fire in a house after a bombing in Kiev on March 12, 2022
"The 'stamp' of Russian troops in Ukraine

Meanwhile, despite undeniable diplomatic progress between Kiev and Moscow, attacks on civilians in Kiev, Odessa, Zaporiyia and Kharkov, among others, have continued to escalate over the days. This is evidenced by the nearly 400 hostages taken by Kremlin forces in an intensive care hospital in the port city of Mariupol, which has been under siege for more than two weeks. 

In fact, according to Ukrainian authorities, two-thirds of the missiles launched by the Russian army are hitting civilian targets. This is "the hallmark" of Moscow's troops, Volodymir Zelesnki's advisor, Oleksiy Arestovich, told the Ukrinform news agency. 

Ukrainian State Emergency Service press service via REUTERS - A woman with a child evacuates from a residential building damaged by shelling, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kiev, Ukraine, in this handout image released March 16, 2022

The same situation continues in Kiev, which has been under siege for more than two weeks and has seen two residential buildings collapse as a result of shelling, while in the eastern city of Kharkov, the emergency services reported on Wednesday that at least 500 people have been killed since the start of the conflict. And in Chernobyl, in the north, Ukraine's State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection condemned the Russian attack on a civilian population waiting for food.

"Russian troops fired at people queuing for bread: at least 10 dead," the State Service said on its official Twitter account. Statements that have been backed up by the US embassy in Ukraine. 

AFP PHOTO / Ukraine Presidency - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa hold a joint briefing after their meeting in Kiev on 15 March 2022
NATO peacekeepers

While Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains that "the West will not achieve global domination or dismember Russia", and assures that "the military mission is developing successfully", several European leaders have coordinated to continue showing their support for Kiev and condemning the Kremlin's actions. This is the case of the Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers - Mateusz Morawiecki, Pietr Fiala and Janez Jansa, respectively - who today returned to their home countries after a symbolic visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev where they were received by Zelenski. 

In a request supported by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who also went to Kiev, called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation "to create a peacekeeping mission or a broader international system". "We should be open to these proposals, even if they seem difficult at first glance", Nauseda told the Polish news agency PAP about the creation of these NATO "peacekeeping troops". 

Despite the military organisation's decline, these requests have led Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to say: "One of the lessons we have to learn is that we have to support the countries that are at risk today. We now see the value of the support we have given, and we see the value of what we have not given. We have to support countries at risk," as he said after the meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, on the situation in Sweden or Georgia.

AP/JEAN-FRANCOIS BADIAS - The Russian flag is removed outside the Council of Europe building, Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe expelled Russia from the continent's top human rights body in an unprecedented move over its invasion and war in Ukraine
Russia, the first country to leave the Council of Europe 

After 26 years as a member of the human rights organisation, the Council of Europe, Russia has become the first country to resign from membership in more than seven decades of the organisation's existence. The offensive against Ukraine led to Moscow's temporary suspension as a member of the Council on 25 February, and in view of the imminent expulsion agreed by all political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Kremlin yesterday announced its voluntary departure. 

"Russia's action goes against everything we stand for and is a violation of our Statute and the European Convention on Human Rights," said the organisation's Secretary General, Marija Pejcinovic, after the conclusion of the procedure for the application of Article 8 of the Statute. This has meant the last word on the departure, voluntary or forced, from Moscow.