ISTANBUL — When President Vladimir V. Putin launched his invasion two weeks in the past, he mentioned a main purpose was the “denazification” of Ukraine. He referred to the Ukrainian authorities as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” making it clear that his intention was to topple it.
But in latest days, the language has shifted, with the Kremlin signaling that Mr. Putin is not bent on regime change in Kyiv. It is a delicate shift, and it might be a head-fake; however it’s prompting officers who’ve scrambled to mediate to consider that Mr. Putin could also be looking for a negotiated method out of a battle that has turn out to be a a lot bloodier slog than he anticipated.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia is predicted to fulfill his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Turkey, in the highest-level talks between the 2 international locations for the reason that battle started on Feb. 24. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose high diplomat has held a complete of 10 calls with Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kuleba for the reason that begin of the battle, mentioned on Wednesday that the assembly might “crack the door open to a permanent cease-fire.”
Leading as much as the assembly, each side have softened their public positions, although they continue to be far aside. Russia has narrowed its calls for to concentrate on Ukrainian “neutrality” and the standing of its Russian-occupied areas, and declared on Wednesday that Russia was not looking for to “overthrow” Ukraine’s authorities. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Tuesday recommended he was open to revising Ukraine’s constitutionally enshrined aspiration to affix NATO, and even to a compromise over the standing of Ukrainian territory now managed by Russia.
“The changes are noticeable,” Ivan Timofeev, the director of applications on the government-funded Russian International Affairs Council, mentioned of the evolution in Russia’s negotiating place. “This position has become more realistic.”
The Kremlin’s place now, in keeping with comments this week by its spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, is that Ukraine should acknowledge Russian sovereignty over Crimea and the independence of the Russian-backed, separatist “people’s republics” in the nation’s east and enshrine a standing of neutrality in its structure. That continues to be removed from what Mr. Zelensky has mentioned he could be keen to simply accept — and it might additionally puncture Mr. Putin’s strongman picture at residence, opening him as much as criticism that he waged an unlimited battle for restricted acquire.
“Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago, after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky mentioned in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.
Ukraine was additionally keen to debate how the breakaway territories “will live on,” Mr. Zelensky added. “What is important to me is how the people in those territories are going to live who want to be part of Ukraine. The question is more difficult than simply acknowledging them.”
With Russia escalating its bombardment of Ukrainian cities in latest days, there are few indicators on the bottom that the Kremlin is able to again down. For Mr. Putin, analysts say, the destiny of Ukraine is key to how he sees his legacy: that of a chief who reunited what he claims are traditionally Russian lands that had been divided by the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the early days of the battle, he repeatedly referred to as on the Ukrainian military to put down its arms and negotiate, apparently anticipating Ukrainians to rally to Russia’s facet.
But Ukraine’s fierce resistance, and the West’s unity in imposing crushing sanctions, has revealed that Mr. Putin tremendously miscalculated. Now, Mr. Timofeev says, the Kremlin should select “between the lesser of two evils”: both settle for a compromise that would maintain a pro-Western authorities in Kyiv, or battle on, risking huge casualties each in the Russian military and amongst Ukrainians.
“He has a clear plan right now to brutalize Ukraine. But to what end?” U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken mentioned on Wednesday. “What is his endgame?”
The most suitable choice, Mr. Blinken mentioned, was to take care of excessive stress on Russia and hope that Mr. Putin “will decide to try to finally cut the losses that he’s inflicted on himself and inflicted on the Russian people.”
The United States has prevented partaking at a excessive degree with the Kremlin for the reason that battle started, after an intense diplomatic push by Mr. Blinken and President Biden in the months earlier than the invasion. Instead, amid the preventing, some American allies have stepped up their very own efforts to halt the battle — in explicit, Israel and Turkey, which each have shut ties to Russia in addition to to Ukraine.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow final Saturday on an pressing mission to see Mr. Putin, making the journey despite the fact that it was the Jewish Sabbath. He spoke to Mr. Putin by telephone Tuesday, their fifth dialog for the reason that battle started.
Israeli officers consider that Mr. Bennett is in a distinctive place to speak messages between the 2 sides as a result of Israel is without doubt one of the few international locations with a comparatively practical relationship with each Kyiv and Moscow. Israel coordinates with Russia over its navy exercise in Syria and desires to guard the Jewish minorities in each Russia and Ukraine.
In a separate effort, Turkey can be making an attempt to facilitate talks between the 2 sides. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish overseas minister, has spoken to Mr. Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, 4 instances and to Mr. Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart, six instances for the reason that outbreak of battle.
Turkey is a NATO ally, has supplied Ukraine with lethally efficient armed drones and has robust cultural ties to the Crimean Tatar minority in Russian-occupied Crimea. But Mr. Erdogan has additionally shaped a robust private bond to Mr. Putin and, not like different NATO leaders, has stopped wanting imposing sanctions in opposition to Russia over the invasion.
“Turkey’s key position that it is able to talk to both parties is appreciated in the whole world,” Mr. Erdogan mentioned on Wednesday, forward of the talks between Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kuleba. “I hope this meeting will crack the door open to a permanent cease-fire.”
A cease-fire would deliver aid to the Ukrainian public however it might not essentially imply the top of the battle. Instead, analysts cautioned, each side might use it to construct up power forward of a additional escalation in the preventing.
“For Ukraine, they would use it to get some civilians into safety but also continue receiving resupply from the West,” mentioned Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director in Ankara, Turkey, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “I am afraid both sides would use such a cease-fire to boost their offensives.”
Russian and Ukrainian officers have already held three rounds of talks in Belarus for the reason that begin of the battle, clashing over points similar to restricted cease-fires and civilian evacuations that would assist clear the best way for a broader settlement. Mr. Peskov described Thursday’s assembly of overseas ministers, which can happen in the Turkish resort of Antalya, as “a very important continuation of the negotiation process.”
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know
“The Russian position has been formulated and relayed to the Ukrainian negotiators,” Mr. Peskov mentioned. “We are interested in having new rounds of contacts as quickly as possible.”
On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, mentioned that the Biden administration helps the diplomacy with Mr. Putin by different overseas leaders, together with Mr. Bennett, as long as these leaders additionally have interaction with Ukraine’s authorities. She added that the United States additionally speaks to Mr. Putin’s interlocutors “before and after all of these conversations.”
Mr. Biden spoke collectively about Ukraine on Friday with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, together with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain. The White House mentioned that Mr. Macron and Mr. Scholz mentioned their latest conversations with the Russian chief.
As for a direct name between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin, Ms. Psaki mentioned that “now is not the moment,” given the Russian chief’s “brutal, horrific” invasion.
“But that doesn’t mean he will never,” she added. “We assess that as time goes on.”
Samuel Charap, a former U.S. State Department official and a Russia analyst with the Rand Corporation, mentioned the United States has not prioritized diplomacy over financial and navy stress in opposition to Mr. Putin.
“I assume that’s because up to this point they think it’s a dead end, and there’s no convincing the Russians to change their immediate war aims,” Mr. Charap mentioned, warning that the method might restrict the probabilities for a diplomatic endgame. “In Putin’s view, the president of the United States is the only interlocutor who matters.”
He added that direct channels of communication have inherent worth even when an settlement appears unlikely, as a result of they will set the stage for later negotiations, keep away from misinterpretations and probably assist assuage Mr. Putin’s most paranoid beliefs, together with that the West is making an attempt to engineer his overthrow.
“Putin’s policies and views might be changing, and the only way you can find that out is by talking to him,” Mr. Charap mentioned.
Anton Troianovski reported from Istanbul, Patrick Kingsley from Chisinau, Moldova, and Michael Crowley from Washington. Safak Timur and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Carlotta Gall from Lviv, Ukraine.