The leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine will meet in Berlin on Monday (24 August) in a bid to bring an end to a new wave of violence in Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Russia will not participate, and it has been reported that Western leaders will ask Poroshenko to implement the Minsk agreement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday (18 August) blamed the Ukrainian government for the latest upsurge in fighting between Kyiv’s forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.
The fighting flared earlier this week, killing at least two Ukrainian soldiers and several civilians. The clashes, near the port of Mariupol, in the southeast, and at rebel-held Horlivka, further frayed an increasingly tenuous ceasefire, as Ukraine prepared to mark its Independence Day next week.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the conflict, which erupted in April 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in reaction to the fall of a Moscow-backed president to mass protests in Kiev.
“It’s worrying,” Fabius told reporters ahead of the meeting between his president, François Hollande, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Military operations must stop and arms be withdrawn… Secondly, we need the right conditions for elections in the Donbass (eastern Ukraine),” he said.
“I hope Monday’s meeting will allow us to advance on both points. We hope to have a solution by December at the latest.”
The Minsk agreement foresees the withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides by an equal distance, to create a security zone at least 50 kilometres wide for artillery systems of 100 millimetres calibre and more; 70 kilometres wide for Multiple Rocket Launching Systems (MLRS); and 140 kilometres wide tactical missile systems.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the Ukrainian side is to blame for not having withdrawn heavy artillery. The Ukrainians had in fact concentrated more military equipment in their respective zones.
Regarding the elections in Donbass, the Minsk agreement says that they should be conducted before the end of the year, provided that constitutional reform in Ukraine takes place with a new constitution entering into force by the end of 2015 providing for decentralization as a key element.
On 16 July, Ukraine’s parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill that would devolve more powers to separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and sent it for review at the country’s highest court.
Presenting the bill, Poroshenko insisted that the changes he is proposing would not turn Ukraine into a federation. He said that along with giving more powers to local authorities throughout the country, the legislation allows broader autonomy in the areas the government is currently not controlling.
France has insisted that the constitutional reform should be in conformity with the Minsk package and confer special status on the Donetsk and Lugansk areas. The Ukrainian authorities are reported to have rejected the term “special status”.
Fabius’ statement could therefore be interpreted as an indication that Hollande and Merkel will pressure Poroshenko to meet the commitments he undertook to fulfill when the agreement was signed in Minsk on 12 February.
But Ukraine says the meeting is not at all intended to put pressure on the country to implement Minsk. The Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said that the meeting in Belin will take place at the initiative of the Ukrainian President, as an expression of deep common concern over the deterioration of the security situation in the region as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“Against the backdrop of active and purposeful steps by Ukraine aimed at the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements in all dimensions – political, security, humanitarian and socio-economic, one can notice deliberate attempts of Russia to torpedo the peace process,” Yelisieiev noted.
The official emphasized that such meetings would facilitate further consolidation of the international support for Ukraine in its aspiration to restore sovereignty and territorial integrity, inter alia, through the provision of new dynamics to the Minsk process as the only way to achieve peace and stability in Donbas.
The EU will not be represented at the Berlin meeting, but Poroshenko is due to meet with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before the end of this month.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
On 2 March, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.
Ukraine has asked the EU to dispatch an EU-led Security and Defence (CSDP) mission to Donbas.