Ukraine Talks Fail to Reach Breakthrough, German Envoy Says

  • Foreign ministers end talks with `mixed picture' in Berlin
  • As truce holds, little movement on holding local elections

Disagreement over local elections in eastern Ukraine thwarted a breakthrough in talks to end the conflict in Ukraine, Germany’s top envoy said, after citing grinding progress in scaling back fighting that has killed more than 9,000 people in the former Soviet Republic.

While a fragile cease-fire was holding after renewed violence between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops, efforts to hold local votes in rebel-held areas are at a near stand-still, said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin and France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault in Berlin.

“The political process remains difficult, with no breakthrough today,” Steinmeier told reporters after the four foreign ministers met on Wednesday. “I can say it was indeed a mixed picture.”

The talks follow a February 2015 agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus to halt the violence in eastern Ukraine. While the deal ended the worst of the fighting, sticking points in implementing the accord have stymied efforts to bring the conflict to a close. The warring sides are now at odds over the status of the rebel-held lands, prisoner swaps, amnesty for combatants and returning control of the border with Russia to Ukraine.

Paris Failure

The envoys from Russia and Ukraine agreed on concrete proposals on pulling back combat forces from the front lines and set up communication channels in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to prevent flareups, Steinmeier said. At the same time, the two sides presented competing proposals on how to set up local elections there, remaining “very far apart,” he added.

Klimkin reiterated the Ukrainian position that no such elections can be held without a complete cease-fire across the front line, the Interfax news service said. Lavrov said that all the elements of the Minsk accord, including laws on local elections, a reform of Ukraine’s constitution and amnesty, must go together.

“We have a feeling that until this package is approved, and it should be adopted” by the Ukrainian parliament, “the elections will be practically impossible to conduct,” Lavrov said.

Ukrainian Politics

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been hampered by a darkening political climate in Kiev. He has postponed a vote on constitutional changes to grant the separatist regions more autonomy for fear he won’t get the necessary two-thirds backing in parliament. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday called the state of implementing the Minsk accords “deplorable.”

The meeting in Berlin marks the 12th time foreign ministers from the four nations, known as the “Normandy format,” have met. The last round of negotiations two months ago in Paris failed, with Steinmeier blaming both Russia and Ukraine for a lack of progress that threatened to blow up into a military escalation.

“The talks were difficult once again,” Steinmeier said Wednesday. “The atmosphere was better than it was in Paris two months ago, though today the general picture remains mixed.”

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