The Russian and Ukrainian delegations to the Turkish sponsored peace talks are playing for time, but for different reasons. The Russians want a major victory to gain leverage. Failing that, they will claim their only goal was to secure the renegade provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The Ukrainians know that the Russians can’t play this game forever. Their recent talking point regarding a pullback from Kyiv, really only a redeployment, means that are almost conceding they will never take Kyiv and thus have to achieve a face saving success at the conference table. Either way you cut it the scales are tipping towards the Ukrainians. But beware, the Russians may try a wild last minute Hail Mary to get concessions. Remember Linebacker II?

FNC: “The first face-to-face talks in nearly three weeks between members of the Ukraine and Russian delegations concluded Wednesday in Istanbul, Turkey, as the war entering into a 34th day has amounted to a ground operation of attrition, with several Ukrainian cities still facing heavy Russian bombardment.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the meeting produced the most significant progress yet in the peace negotiations, according to Reuters.”

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Russia’s deputy defense minister said Tuesday that Moscow has decided to “fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine.” The Ukrainian government also recognized the withdrawal of certain units of armed forces of the Russian Federation from the territories of Kyiv and Chernihiv, warning that “At the same time, there is a high risk of the Russian occupiers attacking military and civilian infrastructure.”

“We believe that there will be no losers in a just peace. Prolonging the conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” Turkish President Erdogan said. But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba retorted, “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty. The minimum program will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum program is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said, according to Reuters. So, nothing happens without a ceasefire and probably a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. Putin will not buy that, yet.