German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, saw “no reason for optimism” after talks yesterday (18 November) in Moscow and Kyiv on the Ukraine conflict that has claimed more than 4,000 lives and caused a deep rift between Russia and the West.
Violence is rising again despite more than two months of ceasefire. Kyiv and the West say Russia is sending soldiers and weapons to help pro-Russian rebels, a charge the Kremlin denies.
“There is no reason for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after their talks in Moscow. “If I was pleased with the situation, I wouldn’t be here.”
The West has imposed sanctions on Russia, which is increasingly isolated over the conflict in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting Ukrainian troops to split parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions from Kyiv.
Lavrov sought to play up Russia’s “partnership” dialogue with Berlin. Steinmeier was the first high-level German official to visit Moscow in months.
Both ministers stressed the need to implement the so-called Minsk agreements clinched between Moscow, Kyiv and the rebels under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
But differences between them were on display at the news conference, with both looking visibly uncomfortable at times.
Lavrov said dialogue between the rival sides should take into account the 2 November vote that separatists organised on the territory they control in defiance of Ukraine’s parliamentary polls held days earlier and protestations from the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Steinmeier later yesterday, the Kremlin said, without giving details of the previously unannounced talks.
Russia defiant over pressure
The east Ukraine crisis has thrown Moscow’s ties with the European Union and the United States into disarray.
Striking a defiant tone on Tuesday, Putin accused Washington of trying to subjugate Russia and warned that would never succeed.
Lavrov said Moscow would not “plead” with Western powers to lift the sanctions, which are straining its troubled economy.
World leaders piled pressure on Putin over Ukraine during a weekend G20 summit in Australia, where he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held 3-1/2 hours of talks.
After the summit, Merkel accused Moscow of threatening the post-Cold War peace in Europe in some of her toughest remarks in recent months.
“After the horror of the two world wars and the end of the Cold War, this calls into question the peaceful order in Europe,” she said, warning Moscow could seek to destabilise other countries like Moldova and Serbia.
Kyiv said on Tuesday six Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours, bringing to more than 140 the number of government troops killed since the 5 September ceasefire.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Steinmeier during his Tuesday stop-over in Kyiv that Russia and the rebels were violating the Minsk agreements.
“Russia should do what it signed up to and promised the whole world it would do,” Yatseniuk said.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.
The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.
Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.
On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.