In a Sunday TV interview Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a direct meeting between presidents Putin and Zelensky has “never been ruled out” and that it’s possible. Yet he said that the delegations that are still negotiating must agree to a firm ceasefire document, which hasn’t been achieved yet.

“No, Putin has never rejected (a possible meeting with Zelensky). Putin has never ruled out such a meeting and this meeting, yes, hypothetically it is possible,” the Kremlin official told Russia-1 TV channel. “Yet on order for it (the meeting) to happen, it is necessary for a certain document to be generated by the two delegations. Not a set of ideas but a specific written document. Then the time will come for such a meeting,” he added. But he blamed the Ukrainians for not fulfilling obligations thus far. This as fresh US intelligence statements have emerged saying Russia wants to declare victory over the Donbas region by May 9th.

File image: International Crisis Group

At a moment US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Russian troops have already experienced “strategic defeat” in Ukraine, Peskov explained he still believes the goals of the “special operation” will be “achieved in full”. It was confirmed over the weekend by the Russian side’s chief negotiator Medinsky that Moscow-Kiev talks are to resume Monday.

Also on Sunday remarks from NATO Secretary General voiced the alliance’s view that despite a previously announced Russian ‘draw down’ from near Kiev and around Chernihiv, there’s been no true change in posture.

What we see is not a real withdrawal, what we see that Russia is re-positioning its troops and they are taking some of them back to rearm them, to reinforce them, to resupply them, but we should not in a way be too optimistic because the attacks will continue,” Stoltenberg told CNN.

“And we are also concerned about potential increased attacks especially in the south and in the east. So this is not a real withdrawal but more a shift in the strategy, focusing more on the south and the east,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a hugely significant bit of weekend reporting (assuming there’s any truth to it), CNN has cited anonymous US and European intelligence officials to say that Putin is aiming to achieve victory in Ukraine by May 9th, or a little over a month away. But ‘victory’ – as we’ve seen – appears to now be limited in scope to the East and South.

The report says Putin is under increased pressure to demonstrate battlefield victory after multiple weeks of stalled momentum: “More than a month into the war, Russian ground forces have been unable to keep control of areas where they have been fighting. Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to demonstrate he can show a victory, and eastern Ukraine is the place where he is most likely to be able to quickly do that, officials say.”

Putin 🇷🇺 is highly likely to concentrate forces on an offensive that can produce some sort of ”win” by May 9 – the traditional Victory Day. Extended area of Donbas is the likely focus, and certainly Odessa if that’s reachable by his forces.— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) April 3, 2022

The CNN report says

US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focused on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” according to one of the officials.

May 9 is a prominent holiday on the Russian calendar, a day the country marks the Nazi surrender in World War II with a huge parade of troops and weaponry across Red Square in front of the Kremlin. The officials say Putin wants to be able to celebrate a victory — of some kind — in his war on that day.

But other officials note even if there is a Russian celebration, an actual victory may be further off.

An unnamed European defense official was cited further as saying that “Putin will have a victory parade on 9th May regardless the status of the war or peace talks.” The source qualified, “On the other hand: a victory parade with what troops and vehicles?”

Over the weekend Ukrainian and Western accusations of a “massacre” in the town of Bucha have emerged, based on widely circulating videos and photos. Russia’s Defense Ministry has called many of these images “staged” and rejected the accusations. 

Appalled by atrocities in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine. Reports of Russian forces targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent.

The UK is working with others to collect evidence and support @IntlCrimCourt war crimes investigation. Those responsible will be held to account.— Liz Truss (@trussliz) April 2, 2022

Lately Russia’s Ministry of Defense has issued statements greatly narrowing the scope of military operations to the Donbas region. This also as it’s become clear that there’s currently no intent to attack Kiev, despite recent heavy fighting in a handful of suburbs. At this point, local residents have even deemed Kiev to be relatively “safe”.