Ukraine Unrest Worsens as Peace-Summit Talks in Berlin Sputter

Ukraine and pro-Russian insurgents blamed each other for growing violence in the country’s east as talks in Germany aimed at setting up a proposed peace summit failed.

As violence in eastern Ukraine escalated, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after a meeting with his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and France in Berlin that little progress had been made in four hours of talks. There was too little agreement on the conflict to go ahead with a proposed summit meeting of the four nations’ leaders in Astana, Kazakhstan, Steinmeier said.

“The differences of opinions that remain make clear how difficult it is to achieve progress,” Steinmeier told reporters.

Diplomatic efforts have increased to help end a conflict that has driven a wedge between Russia and its former Cold War foes and led to the deaths of more than 4,800 people, according to the United Nations. While the December cease-fire sought to kick-start a process toward resolution, Germany warned last week that the road to peace remains “long and rocky.”

Separatist attacks are intensifying, Ukraine army officials said today, while the rebels accused the military of seeking to end the latest month-old truce. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier in the day expressed optimism that the four-way meeting in Berlin would help spur “a full implementation by all sides” of the cease-fire agreement negotiated in September in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Summit Delayed

Steinmeier said the four ministers -- himself, Lavrov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and French counterpart Laurent Fabius -- may convene again next week after lower-level meetings. That would rule out an Astana summit on the initially proposed date of Jan. 15.

The meeting in the Kazakh capital “is expected by many, but has to be prepared,” Steinmeier said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French leader Francois Hollande yesterday in Paris as the three heads of state joined a rally following last week’s terror attacks. Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to ensure separatists agree on a lasting truce. She also expressed concern about persistent tensions and the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Two Wounded

Two Ukrainian servicemen were wounded overnight as rebels stepped up assaults on Donetsk airport, military spokesmen said today. There’s been “rapid escalation” in the conflict, Andrei Purgin, who heads the the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s parliament, said on Rossiya 24 television.

The conflict continues to take its toll on Ukraine’s economy. Central bank reserves plummeted from $9.97b in November to $7.53 billion in December, the lowest level in more than a decade, data showed today. An International Monetary Fund mission will stay in Kiev until Jan. 29 as the government seeks approval for the next tranche of its $17 billion bailout.

Ukraine’s dollar-denominated bond maturing July 2017 plunged the most since Dec. 30, leaving it trading at 60.02 cents on the dollar compared with 62.73 cents at the last close, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Russia may seek early repayment of a $3 billion bond to Ukraine, as the nation’s debt ratio has breached an agreed threshold, state-run RIA Novosti news service reported Jan. 10, citing Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

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