Progress over Ukraine war at Berlin summit with Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin during five hours of "difficult" talks in Berlin yesterday. [Bundesregierung]

Moscow and Kiev agreed Wednesday (19 October) to end a deadlock on the conflict in eastern Ukraine by the end of November, Ukraine’s president said, after a four-way summit in Berlin with the leaders of France and Germany.

After the five-hour talks billed as “difficult”, focus shifted to the conflict in Syria, with host Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s involvement in the civil war.

Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko said the four signatories of the frayed 2014 Minsk peace accords had managed to make tentative progress after months of impasse.

“Between now and the end of November we have to approve a roadmap. It will be a document on the implementation of all the Minsk accords,” he said in a press conference after the Berlin summit, according to Russian news agencies.

Merkel had said ahead of the talks that the negotiations were aimed at “offering a brutally honest assessment” of progress on implementing the frayed Minsk peace accords for Ukraine.

“Things are stalled in many areas such as the ceasefire, political issues and humanitarian issues,” she told reporters Tuesday.

“We have to seize every chance we have for progress. I have to say that we cannot expect a miracle but it is worth every effort at this point.”

Disastrous situation

Ahead of the meeting, Moscow had poured cold water on hopes for headway toward a lasting resolution to the Ukraine conflict.

“We do not expect any breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters ahead of Putin’s trip.

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Putin had not visited Berlin since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, sending relations with the West plunging to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Russia backs a separatist, pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has claimed nearly 10,000 lives.

But it denies accusations that it has sent troops and weapons across its border with Ukraine to fuel the conflict.

Beyond Ukraine, Moscow was also under fire over its involvement in the Syrian civil war at the Berlin talks.

Speaking of the “disastrous” situation in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, Merkel said she and Hollande would talk to Putin “about somehow alleviating people’s suffering”.

“Here too, we cannot expect miracles but it is essential to talk, even if the views are far apart,” said Merkel, who will head to Brussels for a summit with fellow EU leaders later today.

The European leaders will issue a condemnation against Russia over attacks on civilians in Syria’s Aleppo, urge an end to fighting and call for a revived political process, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.

Longer ceasefire

In a small conciliatory gesture, Russia said it was extending an eight-hour truce in Aleppo, which is planned for Thursday, to 11 hours to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city’s battered east.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Army said that a planned humanitarian truce beginning in eastern Aleppo on Thursday would extend to three days, the state news agency SANA reported.

The truce in rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo city will take place on “20, 21 and 22 October, from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) till 16:00 pm (1300 GMT),” the army announced in a statement late Wednesday, according to SANA.

The army called on “the armed men in the eastern districts of Aleppo to leave their weapons”.

A pause in Russian and Syrian strikes on Aleppo was holding for a second day Wednesday, ahead of the promised brief ceasefire.

Syria’s second city, held by rebels determined to oust President Bashar al-Assad, has come under heavy bombardment since the Russian-backed military announced an offensive in late September to regain control of the east.

Air strikes there have flattened numerous residential buildings and civilian facilities, in a campaign the European Union said could amount to war crimes.

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