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Russia Promises To Scale Back Military Operations In Kyiv As Ukraine Proposes Neutral Status

Russia has promised to scale down military operations around Kyiv and another city but the United States warns the threat is not over as Ukraine proposes adopting a neutral status.

Talks took place in an Istanbul palace more than a month into the largest attack on a European nation since World War II that has killed or injured thousands, forced nearly four million to flee abroad and pummelled Russia's economy with sanctions.

Russia's invasion has been halted on most fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.

"A decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions," Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters on Tuesday.

He made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.

Russia has started moving very small numbers of troops away from positions around Kyiv in a move that was more of a repositioning than a retreat or a withdrawal from the war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

"It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over," spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.

A total of 10 US F-18 aircraft and more than 200 troops were being deployed to NATO member and Russian neighbour, Lithuania, and US troops in Poland are "liaising" with Ukrainian forces as they handed over weapons to them, he said.

Russia calls its assault a "special operation" to disarm and "denazify" Ukraine. The West says it launched an unprovoked invasion.

Some analysts noted Russia's promise to reduce fighting mostly covered areas where it had been losing ground.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said only a concrete result from the talks could be trusted.

"We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells," he said.

Ukrainian negotiators said that under their proposals, Kyiv would agree not to join alliances or host bases of foreign troops, but would have security guaranteed in terms similar to Article 5, the collective defence clause of the transatlantic NATO military alliance.

They named Israel and NATO members Canada, Poland and Turkey as countries that may give such guarantees. Russia, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy could also be involved.

The proposals, which would require a referendum in Ukraine, mentioned a 15-year consultation period on the status of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.

The fate of the southeastern Donbas region, which Russia demands Ukraine cede to separatists, would be discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders.

Kyiv's proposals also included one that Moscow would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union, Russia's lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said. Russia has previously opposed Ukrainian membership of the EU and especially of NATO.

Medinsky said Russia's delegation would study and present the proposals to President Vladimir Putin.

US President Joe Biden spoke by phone about Ukraine with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, discussing more financial aid of up to $US500 million for Ukraine.

On the ground, reports of attacks continued.

A shell hit a temporary Russian military camp near the border with Ukraine late on Tuesday, Tass news agency said, with preliminary data showing it had been fired from the Ukrainian side.

Tass issued the report shortly after a senior local official reported a series of explosions outside the city of Belgorod, close to the border with Ukraine.

Elsewhere, however, Ukrainian forces have made advances, recapturing territory from Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv, in the northeast and in the south.

Several European Union countries on Tuesday expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, some for alleged spying, in what the Irish prime minister said was a co-ordinated move. Russia vowed retaliation.