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Atrocities in Bucha Complicate Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks

todayApril 4, 2022 12

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Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have been holding intermittent peace talks since a few days after the war began, but it has not been clear that they would amount to anything — or that the Kremlin was serious about negotiating.

Now, the prospects for talks are more in doubt than ever with the reported discovery of hundreds of corpses of civilians in Kyiv suburbs as Russian forces retreated.

Standing in Bucha, where the largest number of bodies has been revealed, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said on Monday, referring to Russian troops, that it was “very hard to talk, when you see what they have done here.”

“The longer Russia would delay the process of a meeting the worse it will be for them,” he told journalists.

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters that he had no information about when the talks, which were last held last week, would resume, and whether the events in Bucha would affect their progress.

“The situation is serious, there is no doubt,” Mr. Peskov said.

Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization close to the Russian government, said that the events in Bucha will certainly make progress even more difficult.

“It is hard to sit at a table and shake hands when such things happen,” he said.

While the talks are important, Mr. Kortunov said, they primarily depend on the military situation on the ground, where both sides are still waiting for more favorable conditions to emerge for them to press harder from the position of strength.

“As of today, there isn’t much hope,” he said.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that, while Mr. Putin alone can dictate Russian policy, in Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky is dependent on public opinion and a multitude of political actors in the country.

“The events in Bucha would make him even more constrained,” Mr. Kortunov said, referring to Mr. Zelensky.

Throughout the war, Russian officials have given inconsistent statements about Moscow’s aims, about Ukrainian proposals, and about the prospects for a cease-fire, a summit meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Zelensky, or an ultimate peace deal. Several times, different high-level Russian officials have contradicted each other. Some Western officials and analysts have concluded that for the Kremlin, the negotiations are purely for show.

Mr. Zelensky has accepted what Russia has described as its central demand, that Ukraine not join the NATO alliance, and he and his negotiators have expressed openness to other Russian demands. Last week, they presented a set of proposals describing the outlines of a peace deal, but Russia has not formally responded.

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An analysis of satellite images by The New York Times rebuts claims by Russia that the killing of civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, occurred after its soldiers had left the town.When images emerged over the weekend of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha — some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head — Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied responsibility. […]

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