The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet in Turkey on Thursday, the highest-level talks between the two countries since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago. They will discuss the war at a moment when Russia is escalating its airstrikes against civilian targets, and the humanitarian situation in several Ukrainian cities has worsened.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Wednesday that he hoped the meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, would “crack the door open to a permanent cease-fire.”
Both Russia and Ukraine appear to have softened their stance in recent days, raising hopes that a cease-fire might just be possible.
The Kremlin has narrowed its demands to focus on Ukrainian “neutrality” and the status of its occupied regions, and signaled that President Vladimir V. Putin is no longer set on regime change in Kyiv.
On the Ukrainian side, President Volodymyr Zelensky has suggested that he is open to revising his country’s constitutionally enshrined aspiration to join NATO, and even to a compromise over the status of Ukrainian territory now controlled by Russia.
Mr. Zelensky said on Wednesday that he expected Mr. Putin to eventually cease hostilities and enter negotiations after watching his forces encounter fierce resistance in Ukraine. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Russian troops have been killed during the two-week invasion, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, up sharply from an estimate of 3,000 just days ago.
“I think he sees that we are strong,” Mr. Zelensky told Vice News during an interview in Kyiv. “He will. We need some time.”
The talks on Thursday will be held in the Turkish city of Antalya, in a coastal region that has for years been a popular destination for Russian tourists.
Turkey is a more neutral location than Belarus, where the first three rounds of talks have been held. Mr. Erdogan has stopped short of imposing sanctions against Russia over the invasion, but his country is a NATO member that has provided Ukraine with lethal armed drones.
Yet the Russian and Ukrainian demands are still far apart.
The Kremlin said this week that it would halt military operations if Kyiv were to enshrine a status of neutrality in its constitution and recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea and the independence of two Russia-backed separatist territories eastern Ukraine. That is still far from what Mr. Zelensky has said he would be willing to accept. Russia’s position could also puncture Mr. Putin’s image at home, opening him up to criticism that he waged a costly war for limited gain.
Even if Russia and Ukraine were to agree on a cease-fire, it would not necessarily mean the end of the war. Analysts caution that both sides could use it to build up strength ahead of a further escalation.
Mr. Kuleba said on Wednesday that his expectations for the talks in Turkey were low.
As Mr. Kuleba meets Mr. Lavrov, Vice President Kamala Harris will meet in Warsaw on Thursday with President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, a NATO ally on Ukraine’s western border. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, who is visiting Poland this week, will also attend.
The United States and its NATO allies are trying to find ways to help Ukraine defend itself without getting pulled into a wider war against Russia. In a sign of how difficult that is proving, the United States and Poland publicly disagreed this week over proposals for sending Soviet-era fighter jets into the country.
Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command, said in a statement early Thursday that the United States had “no plans to facilitate an indirect or third party transfer of Polish aircraft” to Ukraine.
Providing more air-defense systems and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine is the most effective way to support the country’s military, General Wolters said, and Ukrainian air defenses have been limiting the effectiveness of Russia’s significant air capabilities.
Transferring fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine would “not appreciably increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force,” he added. It could also be “mistaken as escalatory and could result in Russian escalation with NATO.”