At the same time, the National Defense Strategy identifies China as "our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge"
On March 29, representatives from Russia and Ukraine met at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace to try to reach a peace agreement. Initially this meeting was scheduled to last two days and the delegations were expected to discuss a ceasefire. Below are the events as they happen.
US views Russia as ‘acute threat’
The US government views Russia as an ‘acute threat,’ Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby has told reporters.
When asked whether the Pentagon was still viewing Russia as a ‘near-peer competitor,’ the spokesman replied: "I think, you can take away from what we talked about yesterday, when we released the [draft] budget [for the next fiscal year]. We talked about Russia as an acute threat. That’s how we are looking at Russia right now."
The Department of Defense transmitted the classified 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) to the US Congress on Monday. According to comments to the document, the Pentagon believes that Russia is presenting an ‘acute threat’ to the US, including due to its special operation in Ukraine. At the same time, the document identifies China as "our most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge." The unclassified part of the document is expected to be published later.
Russia’s removal from UN Human Rights Council to set dangerous precedent - UN official
Proposals to exclude Russia from the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations cause concern, because this may set a dangerous precedent, UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday.
"That's a question for Member States," he said. "They set their own rules; this is a Member State organization. What I would, however, say, and I've said this in the context of the World Tourism Organization, there is a certain level of concern about the setting of a dangerous precedent."
Earlier, a group of US senators called upon the White House to put forward an initiative regarding the exclusion of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
No assessment to military de-escalation in Ukraine yet, Biden says
US President Joe Biden said that he will not provide any assessment to Russia’s announcement of radical reduction of military activity on Kiev and Chernigov directions.
The US leader was asked during his joint press conference with Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong whether he considers the statement made by the Russian Defense Ministry an indication that the conflict is coming to an end or an indication that Russia seeks to regroup its forces.
"We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We’ll see if they follow through with what they’re suggesting," Biden said.
West’s unilateral anti-Russian sanctions leading to crisis of historic scale - diplomat
The West’s unilateral anti-Russian sanctions are leading to a global economic crisis of a historic scale, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said on Tuesday.
"The actual causes threatening the global food market with serious turbulence are not in Russia’s actions but rather is the unrestrained sanction hysteria the West has unleashed against Russia giving no thought either to the population of the countries of the so-called global south or to their own citizens. The attempt to isolate Russia economically, financially and logistically from the years-long cooperation channels is already entailing an economic crisis of the historic scale. It is clear even for an unsophisticated person that only the refusal from unilateral illegal restrictive measures can ease tensions in the transport and logistics, and financial ties, to ensure uninterrupted supplies and to stabilize international agricultural and food markets," he said.
Russian delegation at talks with Ukraine returns to Moscow
The Russian delegation to the talks with Ukraine has returned to Moscow. The special flight landed at about 22:10 in the Vnukovo airport.
On Tuesday, another round of in-person negotiations between Moscow and Kiev took place in Istanbul. After the meeting, head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky announced that Russia received written proposals on a treaty from Ukraine. He added that, after these proposals are reviewed, Moscow will put forth its own proposals. The official noted that Moscow is making "two steps towards" Kiev and offers to hold a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine earlier than planned before - simultaneously with initialing of the peace treaty at the level of foreign ministers. Russian armed forces will reduce their military activity on Kiev and Chernigov directions.
The United States agrees with European allies to increase pressure on Russia. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi, and Boris Johnson agreed to continue "increasing the costs for Russia" for their military operation in Ukraine.
During a videoconference, they also spoke about "the importance of maintaining stable energy markets" in the face of price increases caused by their sanctions against Russia.
Putin-Zelensky Meeting Possible Only After Agreement Ready. On Tuesday, Vladimir Medinsky, the head of Russian negotiation team, said that President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky are likely to meet only after an agreement is ready for signing.
Before the discussion of a possible meeting of the presidents, a treaty must be prepared and approved by the negotiators, and then endorsed by the foreign ministers, Medinsky explained.
This will be not simple especially because the meeting could be a multilateral one with the participation of state guarantors of peace and security to Ukraine, he said after a new round of Moscow-Kiev talks in Istanbul, Turkey.
The ceasefire is not enough to lift sanctions on Russia. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed that an eventual ceasefire in Ukraine will not be enough to lift sanctions against Russia. He believes that the pressure on President Vladimir Putin should be increased with new economic measures and more military aid to Kyev.
Russian delegation reveals proposals discussed with Ukrainian representatives. After the negotiation round, the chief Russian Negotiator Vladimir Medinsky announced that Ukraine had submitted written proposals confirming its "readiness for a neutral, non-aligned and non-nuclear status, along with a refusal to produce and deploy all types of weapons of mass destruction." , including chemical and bacteriological ones, and a ban on the presence of foreign military bases and foreign troops on the territory of the country."
According to Sputnik, during the meeting in Istanbul, the parties also discussed the possibility of Russia not objecting to Ukraine joining the European Union.
Belgium and the Netherlands expel Russian diplomats. On Tuesday, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra announced that his country will expel 17 Russian diplomats on the grounds that they "are secretly active as intelligence officers."
For its part, Belgium also announced the expulsion of 21 Russian diplomats, according to the RTBF radio station.
#warcrimes Winter gear padding on them that slows the bleeding. Ukraine tortures Russian POWs. Many Russian soldiers are forced to be in the war and want to leave by surrendering. Russian soldiers surrendered and were disarmed, tied up. POWs are kicked in the head until they die pic.twitter.com/w05rRz3LfY— Wunderfi (@aRogueWanderer) March 29, 2022
Russia announces reduction of military activity in Kyev and Chernigov. After negotiations held in Istanbul, Russian Vice Defense Minister Alexandr Fomin announced that his country would reduce its military activity around the Ukrainian capital and the city of Chernigov.
Russia and Ukraine kicked off a fresh round of face-to-face peace talks. Before the meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the time had come for talks to yield concrete results. He called for an immediate ceasefire and said a prolonged conflict is not in anyone's interest.
"There are no losers from a fair and just peace. The continuation of the war is not to the liking of any of the parties and an immediate ceasefire would benefit all," Erdogan said.
Since Feb. 28, Russia and Ukraine have held three rounds of face-to-face peace talks and a series of online discussions, failing to reach a major agreement.
Ukraine asks for a multinational guarantee agreement. During the Istanbul meeting, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arahamiya, said that his country is ready to give up any military alliance if a dozen states sign a binding agreement to protect Ukraine against attacks.
"We want an international mechanism that works similar to NATO article 5. We would like the guarantor countries to be the countries of the United Nations Security Council - the United Kingdom, China, Russia, the United States and France - as well as Turkey, Germany, Canada, Poland, and Israel," he said.
U.S. biological activities in Ukraine a "devil's plan." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called Washington's military biological activities in Ukraine a "devil's plan."
"There are too many gaps in this diabolical plan that still have to be filled," Zakharova said.
Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier that the United States invested more than US$200 million in Ukrainian biolaboratories. In this context, Russia will not rule out the possibility of launching a verification mechanism under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the laboratories in Ukraine were only a small fraction of more than 300 U.S.-funded laboratories currently scattered all over the world, adding that Russia would reveal new documents on their activities.