- Idea opposed by Ukrainian officials insisting on 2015 cutoff
- Comments come as renewed cease-fire in east Ukraine takes hold
Russia said the deadline to implement a peace accord between Ukraine and the Kremlin-backed separatists it’s battling may be extended, as the conflict’s first day in 18 months without shelling raised hopes of progress.
The suggestion contradicted the message from Ukrainian officials as President Petro Poroshenko and his foreign minister both said the pact, sealed in February after all-night talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, must be completed by year-end. While a renewed cease-fire initiative has taken hold, sticking points remain over local elections and autonomy for the rebel-held lands in Ukraine’s east.
“We need to concentrate on fulfilling the Minsk agreements in the agreed terms by the end of the year," Yuri Ushakov, a foreign-policy aide to President Vladimir Putin, told reporters in Moscow on Friday. "After that, if something isn’t complied with for various reasons, the leaders may agree on some extension. We’re not discussing this in concrete terms yet.”
A push to follow through on the Minsk commitments is intensifying, with Germany and France, which helped broker the deal, stepping up diplomacy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that he’s “encouraged by the fact that we have seen a renewed effort to respect” the peace accord. The war has devastated Ukraine’s economy, turned the hryvnia into one of the world’s worst-performing currencies and prompted the government to restructure $18 billion of foreign debt.
Recent talks that included Germany, France and Russia “strengthened my feelings of cautious optimism,” Poroshenko said Friday in a speech in Kiev. “The cease-fire is in place for almost two weeks and is not a dream anymore.”
The four nations’ foreign ministers will meet Saturday in Berlin and their leaders plan to convene in Paris next month. The conflict, whose death toll is approaching 8,000, is “far from being defused,” according to German Foreign Minister spokesman Martin Schaefer.
“A cease-fire has been holding to some extent since Sept. 1," Schaefer told reporters in Berlin. "Still, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains tense politically and militarily.”
The European Union and the U.S. have imposed sanctions on Russia, which they accuse of fueling the war in Ukraine through support for the separatists. It’s too early to speculate on lifting the penalties, German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said Friday.
Some conditions of the Minsk agreement have caused unrest within Ukraine. A Kiev policeman died last month in clashes with protesters during a demonstration against giving more power to the rebel regions. Even so, the former Soviet republic’s leaders say the deal is the only way to end the conflict and must be completed on schedule.
"We need a result, we need to proceed so that by year-end Minsk is fulfilled and we’ve regained control over the border" with Russia, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said. "If we do not have such a task, we’re lying to ourselves.”