After the meeting in Antalya, is there any way to negotiate the conflict?

President Zelensky said Monday he would be ready to “discuss and agree” with the Russians on the separatist areas of Donbass.

“We have talked about a ceasefire, but no progress has been made in that direction.” At the end of talks organized on Thursday in the Turkish resort of Antalya, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba has made a very poor assessment of his exchange with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The city on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea hosted, under the auspices of Turkey, the first high-level meeting between Ukrainian and Russian officials since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The talks, which lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes, did not lead to major progress.

“I first came here for humanitarian reasons, for the evacuation of civilians. But Lavrov did not want to promise anything on this point,” lamented Dmytro Kouleba at the end of the meeting.

However, the two diplomats indicated that they wanted to continue the talks. It remains to be seen whether concrete progress can be made from this, while on the international stage Russian and Ukrainian officials have been battling each other continuously since the beginning of the Russian operation.

On February 25, Vladimir Putin called the Ukrainian government a “clique of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”. More recently, on CNN, Dmytro Kouleba had compared Sergei Lavrov, whom he met this Thursday in Antalya, to “modern day Ribbentrop” named after Hitler’s minister.

Compromise put forward by the Ukrainians

The Turkish mediation attempt follows unclear French and Israeli precedents. But a new element must now be taken into account. The Ukrainian president was open to discussion about Russian demands for the first time in an interview with the American channel ABC on Monday.

The former warlord-turned actor thus stated that he wanted to “talk and find a compromise” with Russia on the status of the pro-Russian separatist areas of Donbass but also of Crimea, a region annexed in 2014. “chilled over his country’s membership in NATO.

“What is needed is for President Putin to talk, to engage in dialogue, instead of living in an information bubble,” he insisted.

“There is a potentially important development in the file. This development may weigh on the mind, as President Zelensky has reconsidered the denials he had against Putin’s requests. It is really opening negotiations. Then straw fire, jet fire… We’ll see. But it’s an important novelty in this war,” General Bruno Clermont analyzes on BFMTV.

On the Russian side, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s journey is in itself a step forward. His trip to Antalya is his first departure from Russian territory since the beginning of the war.

And on Wednesday, Russian diplomacy indicated that its aim was not to “overthrow the government” of Ukraine. “It is played step by step. If we already get to Lavrov who moves, we can hope that Putin does. Knowing that the Ukrainians have again let go of the ballast, but the Russians, on the other hand, seem to have added conditions “, judges Patrick Sauce, international political columnist for BFMTV.

A Russian position to be approached with caution

On the NATO side, we welcome the organization of these talks. “The resumption of the live dialogue is necessarily important and interesting. But what is important is that this conversation takes place under conditions acceptable to the Ukrainians, and at a good level. We must hope that it will allow progress, at least at the humanitarian level,” Camille Grand told BFMTV, the organization’s deputy secretary general.

For the latter, however, these discussions must be conducted in a peaceful context. “Diplomatically, the most important thing is that the Ukrainian authorities decide for themselves what is a space for negotiation for them, and not under the pressure of the bombings,” he said. Conditions currently not being met as the Russian army bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday.

The Russian position must also be qualified. Vladimir Putin on Sunday reiterated to Emmanuel Macron his desire to achieve his goals “either through negotiations or through war”.

Turkey’s choice

Are the next negotiations still taking place in Turkey? In any case, the country wants to be a leading mediator in the Ukrainian crisis. Although Ankara is a member of NATO and has condemned the invasion, it has not yet closed its airspace to Russian companies, nor has it imposed economic sanctions on Moscow.

“It is a neutral place, which sounds to Russian ears. Antalya is very well known among Russian tourists. Moreover, the city overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and not the Black Sea, which is currently a naval battlefield,” says Patrick Sauces.

A view shared by General Bruno Clermont. “Turkey is a very interesting country, which is a little bit nowhere. It is bad in NATO, has special relations with Russia… The country also controls the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles (essential to reach in the Black Sea, note from the editor)”.

But although Ukrainian Dmytro Kouleba indicated on Thursday that he would like to continue the exchanges in this form, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov was more moderate. “Today’s meeting confirmed that the Russian-Ukrainian format in Belarus has no alternative,” he stressed. Close the Turkish parenthesis yet?