Russia draws up 15-point ceasefire peace plan

·Breaking News Editor, Yahoo News UK
·6 min read
KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 16: (---EDITORIAL USE ONLY â MANDATORY CREDIT -
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said peace talks were becoming 'more realistic'. (Getty)

Moscow and Kyiv have lifted hope of a potential breakthrough in Ukraine after three weeks of war.

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said negotiations were becoming "more realistic", while Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the proposals now being discussed were "close to an agreement".

The marked change in tone came as Vladimir Putin, who ordered his troops into Ukraine on 24 February, said Moscow was ready to discuss neutral status for its neighbour.

Ukraine's chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Kyiv was seeking direct talks between Zelenskyy and Putin, but he dismissed an earlier report in the Financial Times that the two sides had already drawn up a draft 15-point peace plan.

Three people close to the talks told the newspaper that the deal included a ceasefire being declared; the Ukrainian government declaring neutrality; Kyiv accepting limits on its armed forces; and Putin's forces withdrawing from the country.

It would also require Kyiv to formally drop its ambition to join Nato and not host foreign military bases or weaponry. In exchange, they would get protection from allies, such as the US, UK and Turkey.

However, Podolyak rejected the claims via Twitter, saying: "Briefly. FT published a draft, which represents the requesting position of the Russian side. Nothing more. The Ukraine side has its own positions."

KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 16: (---EDITORIAL USE ONLY â MANDATORY CREDIT -
Zelenskyy meets world leaders in Kyiv. (Getty)

He did confirm some elements of the draft deal, including "a ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees from a number of countries".

Speaking on the third straight day of talks, Lavrov confirmed there was "some hope for compromise", and highlighted two key points being put on the table:

  • Russia seeks to ensure Ukraine maintains a neutral status, meaning it would never join Nato

  • Ukraine seeks security guarantees that are "legally verified".

Zelenskyy has appeared to acknowledge that Ukraine will not become a Nato member in one of the key elements of the negotiations. Ukraine's chief negotiator Podolyak added that, instead, the country could agree only to “a special version of neutrality with legally verified and non-protocol security guarantees".

In a statement on Telegram, he said: "Ukraine has never been a militaristic state that attacks or plans to attack its neighbours, unlike some neighbours."

Read more: Zelenskyy says Russia’s position in negotiations is becoming ‘more realistic’ as fears deepen for Mariupol

âââââââKHARKIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 15: The remains of a school destroyed during the fighting between the Russian troops barricaded inside the building and the Ukrainian army in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Andrea Carrubba/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The remains of a school destroyed during the fighting between the Russian troops barricaded inside the building and the Ukrainian army in Kharkiv. (Getty)

Putin has previously demanded Ukraine indefinitely rule out the possibility of joining Nato.

The Kremlin said the sides were discussing a status for Ukraine similar to that of Austria or Sweden, members of the European Union that are outside the Nato military alliance.

Lavrov also said of the talks: "The negotiations are not easy for obvious reasons. But nevertheless, there is some hope of reaching a compromise."

"Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees," he added.

"Now this very thing is being discussed in negotiations – there are absolutely specific formulations which in my view are close to agreement."

TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin stands in a hall prior to a meeting with his Belarus' counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 11, 2022. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin had demanded Ukraine ruled out the possibility of joining Nato indefinitely before the attack. (Getty)

Three weeks into the invasion, Russian troops have been halted at the gates of Kyiv, having taken heavy losses and failed to seize any of Ukraine's biggest cities.

Western officials believe Moscow thought it would win within days, and one of Putin's own military chiefs, National Guard head Viktor Zolotov, admitting on Tuesday that "not everything" was going to plan for the Russian forces.

On the guard's website, the general said: “I would like to say yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like.

"But we are going towards our goal step by step and victory will be for us, and this icon will protect the Russian army and accelerate our victory."

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However, on Wednesday Putin doubled down, claiming the "special military operation" was "going to plan".

In a televised speech to government ministers, Putin claimed the West was trying to "cancel Russia" with an "economic Blitzkreig" of sanctions, but said the nation could bear the brunt.

Putin also claimed that the war – which has displaced millions of people – has been used by the West to impose sanctions because "they just don't want a strong and sovereign Russia".

Adding that the West's actions would "only strengthen" Russia, he added: "The West doesn't even bother to hide the fact that its aim is to damage the entire Russian economy, every Russian."

Zolotov’s comments were in stark contrast to Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who told Putin on Friday: "Everything is going according to plan.”

Aftermath of shelling of a residential building by the Russian troops in Svyatoshyn district of Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Pavlo Bahmut/Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Kyiv has been pounded with Russian shells and missiles since the invasion began three weeks ago. (Getty)
Aftermath of shelling of a residential building by the Russian troops in Svyatoshyn district of Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Pavlo Bahmut/Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin's invasion has sparked the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. (Getty)

Ukrainian officials have expressed hope this week that the war could end sooner than expected - even within weeks - as Moscow was coming to terms with a lack of fresh troops to keep fighting.

In an intelligence assessment released on Wednesday, Britain said Russian forces were trapped on roads, struggling to cope with Ukrainian terrain and suffering from a failure to gain control of the air.

"The tactics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have adeptly exploited Russia's lack of manoeuvre, frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces," it said.

Putin's invasion has sparked the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, with three million people having fled Ukraine in search of safety.

Read more: Ukrainians returning to their country to fight and help 

Exact numbers of those killed are so far impossible to verify, by Ukraine has claimed more than 12,000 Russian soldiers have died in the offensive.

Over 2,000 civilians, including 100 children, are also thought to have been killed.

Kyiv has been pounded with Russian shells and missiles since the invasion began three weeks ago, prompting half the population to flee in search of safety.

Authorities imposed a 35-hour curfew on Tuesday night amid fears the Russian campaign has shifted to the destruction of residential areas.

Ukraine's former finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk described any attempts by Putin's forces to take Kyiv as a "suicide mission".