Both Russia and Ukraine appear more optimistic ahead of another scheduled round of peace talks – even as Moscow continues its assaults on Kyiv and other major cities.
With Moscow’s ground advance on the Ukrainian capital stalled, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by the two sides.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic”.
According to the Financial Times, a 15-point plan to end the fighting has been drawn up.
This includes a ceasefire and a Russian withdrawal, with Kyiv having to accept neutrality and curbs on its armed forces.
Citing three sources involved in the negotiations, the FT said Ukraine would have to give up its bid to join NATO – something Mr Zelenskyy has already hinted at.
It would also have to promise not to allow foreign military bases or weaponry into the country in exchange for protection from allies such as the US, UK and Turkey.
But the status of Ukrainian territories taken by Russian forces in 2014 could be a major stumbling block for an agreement.
Mr Lavrov said “the business-like spirit” starting to surface in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue”.
“A neutral status is being seriously discussed in connection with security guarantees,” he said on Russian channel RBK TV.
“There are concrete formulations that in my view are close to being agreed.”
Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said the sides were discussing a possible compromise idea for a future Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned military.
Even if Ukraine does not join NATO, the bloc has already decided it must strengthen its defences.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “We need to reset our military posture for this new reality.
“Ministers will start an important discussion on concrete measures to reinforce our security for the longer term, in all domains.”
Earlier Mr Zelenskyy went before the US Congress via video and, invoking Pearl Harbour and 9/11, pleaded with America for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia, saying: “We need you right now.”
Russia President Vladimir Putin has insisted the operation in Ukraine is unfolding “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans”.
However, he added: “We are ready for talks.”
The key updates on Wednesday:
• Zelenskyy says peace talks ‘more realistic’ – as European leaders risk train ride to Kyiv to offer support
• Johnson meeting controversial Saudi leader in bid to end ‘addiction’ to Russian oil
• Zelenskyy addresses US Congress, as NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels
• Fox News cameraman and Ukrainian journalist killed near Kyiv
• More than 122,000 Britons have now registered interest for refugee scheme
He also described Western sanctions against Russia as “aggression and war with economic, political, information means”.
At the same time he said the West has failed to wage “an economic blitzkrieg” against Russia.
“In effect these steps are aimed at worsening the lives of millions of people.
Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Russia to stop its invasion “immediately”.
The judges added Russia must also ensure that other forces under its control or supported by Moscow should not continue the military operation.
It follows a case brought by Kyiv to the ICJ claiming Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the ongoing invasion.