Ukrainian Leader Wants Full Control of East Returned This Year

  • Deadline to meet terms of peace accord was missed at end-2015
  • Talks Wednesday were first with new Russian representative

Ukraine’s leader said his nation must this year regain control of rebel-held lands in its east after delays in implementing a peace accord brokered with Russia and Germany.

Reiterating his commitment to the agreement signed last February in Belarus, President Petro Poroshenko said a road map is now needed to ensure its terms are met. Diplomacy on implementing the pact has intensified of late. Before scheduled negotiations this week, Russia’s new representative to the talks visited Poroshenko in Kiev. The Ukrainian president also spoke Wednesday by phone with the leaders of Germany and France.

“Ukraine’s sovereignty must be restored over the occupied territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2016," Poroshenko said Thursday in Kiev during his annual news conference.

Having reignited Cold War tensions, the conflict in Ukraine’s easternmost regions has eased since a second peace agreement was sealed last February in Minsk, Belarus’s capital. While the end-2015 deadline to fulfill the deal was missed, world leaders say the pact is the only way to resolve almost two years of unrest that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 9,000 people. 

Ukraine and the pro-Russian insurgents its army has been fighting accuse each other of scuppering the peace process. Speaking Wednesday in Donetsk, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko called the Minsk pact “a fiasco.”

Blame Game

“2015 passed, a year that was supposed to dot all the ‘i’s,” he said. “Ukraine tried to twist everything and get access to the border without amendments to the constitution and without providing Donbas with special status.”

Poroshenko blames Russia for the failure to meet the original deadline. Ukraine, as well as the U.S., the European Union and NATO, say Russia is fueling the conflict by supplying the rebels with weapons and manpower. President Vladimir Putin has said there are some Russian military staff in the region.

Implementation talks Wednesday in Minsk yielded an accord to release more than 50 prisoners. Other issues still to be addressed include local elections in rebel-held areas and achieving a complete cease-fire. The accord calls for the eventual return of Ukraine’s eastern border to the control of the government in Kiev.

New Face

Wednesday’s meeting was the first since Russia changed the officials leading its side of the negotiations, now headed by Boris Gryzlov, a 65-year-old former interior minister and parliamentary speaker. Gryzlov’s trip to Kiev marked the first time Russia’s representative traveled to the Ukrainian capital before a round of peace talks.

Progress toward a lasting peace is possible in the coming months if all sides show good will, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Jan. 7. If the Minsk deal holds, sanctions against Russia may be lifted, she said. Poroshenko reiterated Thursday that the measures should remain in place until full implementation of the agreement.

This year’s first round of talks in Minsk was preceded by an uptick in violence. Pro-Russian insurgents renewed attacks in the Luhansk region after a prolonged lull in fighting there, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said Jan. 12.

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