ISTANBUL, Turkey – Ukrainian and Russian delegations are arriving in Istanbul for another round of in-person talks — putting NATO member Turkey, which has ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, in the spotlight as an intermediary in the deadly conflict grinding into its second month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed his desire for a cease-fire in a phone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, state media reported.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to offer a diplomatic opening Sunday, saying that Kyiv could declare its “neutrality” and effectively end its bid to join NATO in a potential peace agreement with Moscow, but stressed that any deal must be voted on by a national referendum held without Russian troops in Ukraine. Zelensky made these remarks during an interview with a Russian outlet, which the Kremlin’s Internet censor then banned Russian media from publishing. Russia’s foreign minister on Monday, dismissing the chances of Putin and Zelensky meeting, downplayed expectations before the talks were expected to begin Tuesday.

The renewed diplomatic effort comes as fighting and shelling continues to terrorize the country, and Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Andriivna Vereshchuk said Monday that humanitarian corridors would not be open due to reports of “provocations.” About 160,000 civilians remain stuck in Mariupol, the Ukrainian city blockaded and shelled by Russia for weeks, its mayor said Monday.

Pentagon intelligence suggests Russia is changing focus to controlling the eastern Donbas region, where pro-Kremlin separatists have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence accused Russia on Sunday of trying to dominate the east and divide his country in two — “to create North and South Korea in Ukraine.”