- Ukraine says Russia-backed rebels holding out on cease-fire
- Foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany meet
The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France agreed on a timetable for elections in eastern Ukraine and for the release of prisoners, though they disagreed about what progress had been made on a permanent cease-fire.
“We have advanced on fixing concrete objectives and on establishing a working calendar,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after hosting talks Thursday evening in Paris. “We are confident because there is a willingness to move forward.”
Ayrault said officials from the four countries that sealed the February 2015 peace accord to end fighting in eastern Ukraine won pledges from both sides to release all prisoners by April 30, to hold local elections in the Donbas region by June 30, and to publicly pledge to refrain from using weapons during training exercises along the disputed front.
Contrasting with France’s progress report, Russia and Ukraine focused on unresolved disputes and demands in the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 9,000 people since Russian President Vladimir Putin encroached on neighboring Ukraine two years ago.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to violate the cease-fire and are hiding heavy weapons that they’d agreed to withdraw. He also said security needed to be guaranteed before elections could be held. “It was a very difficult meeting,” he said. “There was no breakthrough today.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was “no progress” on actually holding elections in Donbas and on Russia’s demand for direct talks between the separatists and the Ukrainian government, according to comments posted on his ministry’s website.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeierblamed both sides for a lack of progress he said threatens to blow up into a military escalation. T
“Sometimes I have the impression that Moscow and Kiev are oblivious to how serious the situation is,” Steinmeier told reporters in Paris. “The truth is that the positions of the parties to the conflict are far apart.”
The conflict in Ukraine’s east, which reignited Cold War tensions when it erupted in 2014, remains unresolved as the governments in Kiev and Moscow blame one another for not implementing the peace accord, signed in Minsk, Belarus.
Ukraine wants to end the conflict to reinforce a nascent recovery from 18 months of recession. For Russia, whose economy is mired in its worst contraction in two decades, a resolution would clear the way for international sanctions to be removed and relieve some of the pressure from tumbling oil prices. The U.S. and the European Union accuse Russia of stoking the conflict by supplying arms and personnel, which it denies.
The latest push for peace comes amid the worst Ukrainian government crisis since the pro-European coalition was swept to power two years ago following the ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. Government infighting over delayed anti-corruption measures threaten to trigger snap elections, denting the hryvnia and prompting the central bank to keep borrowing costs on hold on Thursday.