Russia said on Wednesday that some parts of a possible peace deal with Ukraine were close to being agreed after Kyiv agreed to discuss neutrality, raising hopes of an end to the biggest war in Europe since World War Two.
“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said told RBC news.
“Now this very thing is being discussed in negotiations — there are absolutely specific formulations which in my view are close to agreement,” Lavrov said.
He said that President Vladimir Putin had spoken about neutrality, along with security guarantees for Ukraine without Nato enlargement, as one possible variant in February.
Lavrov cautioned that the negotiations were not easy but that there was “some hope of reaching a compromise”.
Ukraine has also made cautious positive statements on peace talks. It says it is willing to negotiate to end the war, but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.
Lavrov said key issues included the security of people in eastern Ukraine, the demilitarisation of Ukraine and the rights of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that the country’s armed forces are launching counteroffensives against Russian forces “in several operational areas”.
“This radically changes the parties’ dispositions,” he added, without giving details.
In an update on the war, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces referred to the “high intensity of hostilities” but did not say where fighting was heaviest.
Ukrainian officials also made clear that the death toll was rising from the war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24.
The emergency service in Ukraine’s eastern region of Kharkiv region said on Wednesday that at least 500 residents of the city of Kharkiv have been killed.
Prosecutor General said on Iryna Venediktova said on Facebook that 103 children have been killed so far in the war.
Russian forces have struck more than 400 educational establishments and 59 of them have been destroyed, she said.
The governor of the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine said there was no electricity in the region’s main city, Chernihiv, or in some other settlements in the area.
But Governor Viacheslav Chaus said Ukraine’s armed forces “are powerful and inflict powerful blows on the Russian enemy every hour”.