Russia and Ukraine are close to ink a possible peace deal as negotiations have entered a crucial stage.
“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees,” Russian 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 an 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.
Ukraine launches counteroffensives
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.
Reuters was unable immediately to verify his comments.
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 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”.
Meanwhile, About 20,000 people have managed to escape the besieged port of Mariupol in private cars, the Ukrainian interior ministry said, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped by Russian shelling, many without heating, power, or running water.
Russian forces have focused on Mariupol, constantly bombarding it for the past two weeks, as it is a key city on the Azov Sea coast which they must gain control of to push further west.
Ukrainian officials estimate that more than 2,500 residents have been killed in the fighting and at least 200,000 are in urgent need of evacuation