Ukraine peace talks: Putin mulling ‘harder’ attacks as he ‘works out what went wrong’

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Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held their first direct peace talks in more than two weeks on Tuesday, March 29. The negotiations for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine were attended by sanctioned Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire, who was designated for his links to Putin, reportedly played an early role in helping initiate the conversation between Ukrainian and Russian diplomats.

The negotiations, which are taking place in Istanbul, continued on Wednesday, March 30, although with little signs of progress, according to Moscow.

Ukraine presented a list of demands at the start of the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in the Turkish city.

However, he said Russia did not see anything that could result in an end to the conflict in Ukraine, which has raged for the last five weeks.

As the talks rumble on, Putin may be taking stock of his invasion of Ukraine and mulling over whether to hit the country with “harder” attacks, according to Peter Frankopan, the professor of global history at the University of Oxford.

The political expert claimed the Kremlin strongman may also be considering “what went wrong” during the initial stages of Russia’s invasion.

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Speaking about the peace talks, he told Express.co.uk: “It allows him to take stock.

“What I assume he will be thinking about is whether he should go again.

“But hit Ukraine in a different way, harder, and work out what went wrong the first time.

“Or, whether it is a chance to negotiate and to find an agreement, and there are some promising noises coming out of Turkey around what that agreement might look like.

“Again, I think anybody who has dealt with, followed and studied Putin for the last 20 years or more, would recognise that he is not naturally given towards taking the middle way out and looking for concessions.”

He added: “He is pretty determined to do things his way and so I would have thought this is breathing space.”

There is reason to be sceptical that Putin will see the talks as a way to negotiate what he wants peacefully after Russia broke its pledge to cease attacks in some areas of Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said his nation would “radically” reduce military activity near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and in Chernihiv.

He also said there had been progress in the talks on Ukraine becoming a neutral and non-nuclear nation – major concerns for Russia, due to its neighbour’s bid to join the NATO military alliance.

However, the Russian official’s statement about it winding down its military activities was met with caution by the UK, US and Ukraine.

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Overnight, Russia broke its pledge, launching fresh attacks on besieged Chernihiv and near to Kyiv.

The capital was not struck itself, but artillery fire could be heard in the suburbs, where Ukrainian forces have regained territory from Russian invaders in recent days.

Prof Frankopan, who has closely studied Putin’s more than two decades in power, claimed he is more likely to “escalate” the conflict than consider a military drawdown in Ukraine.

He said: “Picking up what might happen around Putin is very difficult.

“Because he has a very, very small circle around him and they seem to be completely loyal at the moment.

“But I think the bigger picture now, with the announcement yesterday, is Putin now has got two choices.

“Either to use this time to regroup and go again or to regroup and find some kind of accommodation.

“With Putin it is very difficult to guess where he is going to go. But probably, in my view, on the basis of the last 20 years, is that never bet Putin is going to pick the simplest and easiest way. He is much more likely to want to escalate.”

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