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Russia-Ukraine Talks Begin in Istanbul

As officials meet in Turkey, experts question whether Putin is really seeking a diplomatic resolution.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
A woman carrying her baby crosses a destroyed bridge in Ukraine
A woman carrying her baby crosses a destroyed bridge in Ukraine
A woman carrying her baby crosses a destroyed bridge as they flee the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 7. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russia-Ukraine cease-fire talks kick off in Istanbul, Shanghai locks down amid surging COVID-19 cases, and El Salvador declares a state of emergency to confront gang violence.

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Ukrainian and Russian Negotiators Meet in Turkey 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russia-Ukraine cease-fire talks kick off in Istanbul, Shanghai locks down amid surging COVID-19 cases, and El Salvador declares a state of emergency to confront gang violence.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Ukrainian and Russian Negotiators Meet in Turkey 

Diplomats from Ukraine and Russia are meeting in Istanbul today for another round of negotiations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the talks by calling for an immediate cease-fire and saying that “we should expect solid outcomes.”

Although major breakthroughs aren’t expected, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed his willingness to discuss some of the Kremlin’s demands: declaring neutrality, staying out of NATO, and pledging not to develop its own nuclear arsenal. Even so, Zelensky has said that a potential deal would need to be determined in a national referendum and would require security guarantees and the removal of Russian forces.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state—we’re ready to do that,” Zelensky said on Sunday. “That’s the most important point … they started the war because of it.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is reportedly no longer pushing to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and is now willing to allow Kyiv to join the European Union as long as it practices military nonalignment, according to the Financial Times.

But officials and Russia experts remain skeptical of whether Putin is actually seeking a diplomatic resolution to the war, especially as Russian forces continue to intensify their missile strikes on Ukrainian cities, worsening the war’s humanitarian fallout.

“The Russians are still looking for a battlefield victory, and Ukrainians are not willing to cave,” Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Poland, told Foreign Policy.

If negotiations fail to produce diplomatic breakthroughs, as many experts expect, what could come next? After consulting more than a dozen Western officials, military analysts, and regional experts, my colleagues Amy Mackinnon, Jack Detsch, and Robbie Gramer have outlined five broad outcomes that could emerge from the war: a bloody stalemate, the partition of Ukraine, a decisive victory, a peace agreement, or a black swan event like a Russian nuclear attack or Putin’s fall from power.

Until then, they write, many analysts fear that the conflict will only deepen as Putin continues his assault on Ukrainian cities and civilian targets—and shows little signs of giving in.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s negotiations,” said Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But as long as the fighting intensifies and the shelling of civilian areas continues, he said, “I don’t have high hopes.”

“I think the worst could still be ahead of us,” he added.


What We’re Following Today

Shanghai’s sweeping lockdown. As cases of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus surge in China, the country has imposed a lockdown in half of Shanghai—its biggest since the pandemic first began two years ago. Shanghai has been grappling with a staggering spike in largely asymptomatic COVID-19 cases: On Sunday, the city reported 3,500 new cases, 50 of which were symptomatic.

To curb the spread of the virus, the city—home to 25 million people—will implement a two-phase lockdown based around the Huangpu River, which divides the city. From Monday to Friday, the eastern side of the river will be under lockdown; those west of the river will face the same restrictions in the four days after.

El Salvador cracks down on gang violence. After El Salvador was rocked by a severe wave of gang violence—at least 62 people were killed on Saturday, the country’s deadliest day in three decades—the government has declared a 30-day state of emergency. Under this order, the government can suspend several constitutional guarantees and lift certain arrest restrictions, while prisons are locked down.

“All the cells locked 24/7, nobody goes out even to the yard,” El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele tweeted on Sunday. “Message to the gangs: Because of your actions, now your ‘homeboys’ won’t be able to see a ray of sunshine.”

Historic security summit. Top diplomats from the United States, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco convened in a historic security summit in Israel on Monday. At the summit—the first such meeting to be held in Israel—the participants worked to coordinate efforts against Iran, while also urging Israel to revive talks with Palestinian leaders. “We have to be clear that these regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.


Keep an Eye On 

Indian workers strike. Since Monday, millions of workers across India have been taking part in a two-day nationwide strike to demand greater rights and protest the government’s economic policies, which they say hurt workers and farmers. With both public and private sector workers marching, their demonstrations have blocked roads, highways, and railway tracks across states.

Massacre in Mexico. Armed gunmen attacked an illegal cockfighting arena in western Mexico on Sunday night, killing 20 people. Although it’s still unclear who was behind the attack—or what their motive was—witnesses report seeing a massacre in which gunmen equipped with assault rifles opened fire late on Sunday night. Outside, two parked trucks blocked the highway to the cockfighting pit.


Odds and Ends

Four Chinese badminton players have been charged with a peculiar crime: failing to play their best during a doubles match at the 2018 Fuzhou Open.

During the match, observing Danish players told the referee they didn’t believe the players—a world-ranked No. 2 pair and a No. 17-ranked pair—were playing seriously. After the referee stepped in and asked all of the players to try their best during the second game, the match’s intensity improved—but they were ultimately charged after the No. 17 pair won.

In March, a Badminton World Federation disciplinary panel announced that the players were found guilty of failing to try their best. As a punishment, all will face temporary bans and have to hand over their prize money from the competition.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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