Russian Negotiator’s Optimism Clash with Moscow’s Rhetoric

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“We do not see anything very promising or any breakthroughs,” Mr. Peskov told reporters. “Very, very long work is ahead.”

Some Russian analysts and Western officials see the diplomacy as little more than a way to buy time while Russian troops regroup. Russia’s promise to wind down military operations around Kyiv, which the Russian Defense Ministry cast as a good-faith gesture of de-escalation, in reality appeared to be a way to explain away a battlefield defeat.

Russia forces around Kyiv were “regrouping,” the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, although that assertion could not be independently confirmed. The aim of gathering forces near Kyiv was all along not to take the city, but to tie up and weaken Ukrainian troops in the area, the ministry claimed in a statement.

“All these goals were achieved,” the ministry said, adding it would now focus on “the final stage of the operation to liberate” the Donbas area of ​​eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Putin himself has not commented on what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine since March 18. Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the France-based political analysis firm R. Politik, noted that much of what Ukraine proposed on Tuesday would be a nonstarter for Mr. Putin, such as the idea that there would be a 15-year negotiating process about the status of Crimea — something that Mr. Putin, who annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, says is nonnegotiable.

She described the negotiations as, most likely, a feint rather than a signal that Russia was ready to wind down the war. But she noted that — as was the case in the run-up to the invasion — senior Russian officials were unlikely to know what Mr. Putin was really planning, leading to this week’s mixed messages.

“The problem with the Russian regime is that, once again, no one understands what Putin wants,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “As a result, we get this informational chaos.”

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