German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that any elections held in eastern Ukraine must conform to that country’s laws.
“Hollande and Merkel underscored the fact that elections in separatist areas that are contrary to current agreements would endanger the Minsk process,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The European leaders’ first three-way conversation with Putin since June 22 follows signals by Merkel and Hollande that they are stepping up efforts to engage on Ukraine as the cease-fire negotiated in February in Minsk is faltering. The three emphasized that the accord is still the foundation for improving the situation in eastern Ukraine and reiterated their willingness to work with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to end the 16-month conflict, Seibert said. Merkel and Hollande met Poroshenko in Berlin on Aug. 24.
The three leaders also discussed the need for any vote in separatist areas to be held under the observation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and that any attacks or threats against the group’s special observers in the country is “unacceptable,” Seibert said in the statement.
Putin expressed his concern during the call over the Ukrainian army’s firing on settlements in Donbass and the buildup of armed forces along the cease-fire line, according to a Kremlin statement. Ukraine countered that pro-Russia insurgents are amassing heavy weapons in the Mariupol district and that two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and another three wounded in the last 24 hours, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman, said in Kiev.
With fighting persisting in eastern Ukraine, Merkel said this week that conditions aren’t right for removing economic sanctions on Russia. The European Union first imposed the measures after Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year and held a referendum to join Russia that the international community largely didn’t recognize.
“We naturally want to get the political environment back to a state where sanctions can be lifted,” Merkel said Thursday in a speech in Vienna. “We have so many international problems to tackle that it would be desirable to return to constructive cooperation” with Russia, she said.
Germany’s position on sanctions is unchanged and the reasons that led to them remain in effect because the accord, co-signed by Putin in February, hasn’t been fully implemented, Seibert said at a government news briefing Friday.