27 Aug 2014

Roadmap’ for peace? Ukraine to seek ceasefire after talks

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promises to work on an urgent ceasefire plan with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to defuse the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“A roadmap will be prepared in order to achieve as soon as possible a ceasefire regime which absolutely must be bilateral in character,” Mr Poroshenko said in a statement after talks in Minsk, capital of Belarus.

Mr Poroshenko said the multi-lateral talks, which included EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus, were “tough and complex”.

Ceasefire conditions

The first talks between the two leaders since June were described by Mr Putin as positive, but he said it was not for Russia to get into the details of truce terms between the Kiev government and two rebel eastern regions.

“We didn’t substantively discuss that, and we, Russia, can’t substantively discuss conditions of a ceasefire, of agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk. That’s not our business, it’s up to Ukraine itself,” he told reporters early on Wednesday.

“We can only contribute to create a situation of trust for a possible, and in my view, extremely necessary, negotiation process.”

Despite the positive tone, it remained unclear how the rebels would respond to the idea of a ceasefire, how soon it could be agreed and how long it might stick.

Russian troops

The leaders shook hands at the start of their meeting in Minsk just hours after Kiev said it had captured Russian soldiers on a “special mission” on Ukrainian territory.

Responding to a video of the detained servicemen, a Russian defence ministry source told Russian news agencies that they had crossed the border by mistake.

But Ukraine’s military spokesman dismissed that, mocking the idea that “the paratroopers got lost like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest”.

The Minsk talks, preceded by six hours of wider negotiations with top European Union officials and the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, were aimed at ending five months of conflict that has heightened tensions between Russia and Nato, prompting both to step up military manoeuvres.

Sanctions

The crisis has prompted the United States and EU to slap sanctions on Russia, drawing retaliation from Moscow in a trade battle that threatens to tip Russia into recession and snuff out economic recovery in Europe.

“We all wanted a breakthrough,” President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus told reporters after the multilateral part of the talks had finished.

“But the very fact of holding the meeting today is already a success, undoubtedly,” he said. “The talks were difficult. The sides’ positions differ, sometimes fundamentally … Everybody agreed on the need to de-escalate and free hostages.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters: “It was cordial but positive. There was a sense in which the onus was on everyone to see if they could do their best to try to resolve this.”