US still skeptical of peace talks as Russia claims to pull back from Kyiv

Secretary of State Blinken said Russia's show no "signs of real seriousness."

March 29, 2022, 2:28 PM

RABAT, Morocco -- The U.S. remains skeptical that Russia is engaging genuinely in negotiations with Ukraine to end its monthlong war against its neighbor.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Kremlin's negotiators had still not shown "signs of real seriousness," even after the two sides discussed potential elements of a peace deal shortly after talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 27, 2022.
Nasser Nasser/AP, FILE

Russia's military said it would "fundamentally" scale back its military operations near Ukraine's capital Kyiv and the northern city Chernihiv to give those talks a chance.

But Blinken declined to say whether the U.S. had confirmed a real shift in Russian strategy nearly five weeks after Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion and aimed for a swift takeover of the Ukrainian government.

"There is what Russia says and what Russia does, and we're focused on the latter -- and what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people, and that continues as we speak," he told reporters in Rabat, Morocco.

Ukrainian troops drive a captured Russian military vehicle after retaking the village of Mala Rogan, east of Kharkiv, March 28, 2022.
Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

"I have not seen anything that suggests that this is moving forward in an effective way because Russia is not showing signs of real seriousness, but if Ukraine concludes that there is, that's good, and we support that," he added.

President Joe Biden also weighed in Tuesday on Russia's claim that it will move forces, saying "we'll see if they follow through on what they're suggesting."

"I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are," he said during a joint press statement with Singapore's prime minister at the White House.

Biden noted the ongoing negotiations in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia and said there is consensus among Western allies to "see what they have to offer."

"We'll find out what they do," he added. "But in the meantime, we're going to continue to keep strong sanctions. We are going to continue to provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves and we are going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on."

Ukrainian negotiators have laid out a detailed framework for a peace deal, where Ukraine would remain neutral and not joined the Western military alliance NATO -- but it would join the European Union and its security would be guaranteed by several regional and world powers, including the U.S.

Asked Tuesday whether the U.S. would join that pact, Blinken expressed support: "If there is some kind of outcome, and if our support for Ukraine can be part of that, can include our support in the future for its defense and security, of course that's something we'll want to pursue."

PHOTO: Firefighters carry a body from the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, March 29, 2022.
Firefighters carry a body from the rubble of a government building hit by Russian rockets in Mykolaiv, March 29, 2022. A Russian strike battered the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, a key port under heavy assault for weeks.
Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday's talks made "meaningful" progress, with "a consensus and common understanding" on some issues, according to the Associated Press.

But Blinken was more skeptical, saying it could be Moscow "trying to deflect and deceive people into thinking that it's not doing what it is doing, whether it's simply trying to regroup given the heavy losses that it's suffered - I don't know."

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech to welcome the Russian, left, and Ukrainian, right, delegations ahead of their talks in Istanbul on March 29, 2022.
Turkish Presidency via AP

Russian forces had already been pushed back from east of Kyiv and moved into defensive positions north of the city, Pentagon officials said last week -- a sign the Kremlin was suffering major losses in its efforts to seize the capital and decapitate the Ukrainian government.

Late last week, Russia said its "main goal" was now on the eastern provinces known as the Donbas, where Moscow has led separatist forces for over eight years against the Ukrainian government.

The top U.S. diplomat engaged with his Russian counterpart repeatedly before the war, saying the U.S. had to give diplomacy a chance. But after the Kremlin launched its brutal invasion, he's been far more skeptical -- accusing the Kremlin of not negotiating in good faith and, instead, using the cover of diplomacy to continue its attacks.

PHOTO: The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, March 29, 2022.
The regional government headquarters of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, following a Russian attack, March 29, 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says seven people were killed in a missile strike on the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Mykolayiv.
Petros Giannakouris/AP

After Biden spoke to his British, French, German and Italian counterparts earlier on Tuesday, the British government echoed the same skepticism.

"The Prime Minister underscored that we must judge Putin's regime by their actions not their words," a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said.

ABC's Conor Finnegan reports:

ABC News' Libby Cathey contributed to this report.