Ukraine, Russia fail to agree

Normandy Four met in Berlin to discuss the deployment on UN peacekeeping mission

Photo: Photo: EPA Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia: Pawlo Klimkin, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas and Sergei Lavrov (L-R) pose for photographs.

Foreign ministers from the countries of the so-called “Normandy format” - France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine - met in Berlin on 11 June for talks on bringing an end to the fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The focus of the meeting was implementing an unfulfilled peace accord reached in the Belarus capital of Minsk in 2015 and the possibility of bringing United Nations peacekeepers to the region where the armed conflict has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

Foreign ministers from the countries of the so-called “Normandy format” - France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine - met in Berlin on 11 June for talks on bringing an end to the fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The focus of the meeting was implementing an unfulfilled peace accord reached in the Belarus capital of Minsk in 2015 and the possibility of bringing United Nations peacekeepers to the region where the armed conflict has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. 
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the four-way talks that Russia and Ukraine agreed in principle on a UN peacekeeping mission, but their ideas about how to implement it were still “very much apart”, as reported by Reuters. 
“Regarding the parameters of a possible UN mission for eastern Ukraine, we agreed to instruct our political directors to continue negotiations not about if, but how, such a mission could happen, and discuss this in the coming weeks,” Maas said. 
The meeting was the first since February 2017, though lower level officials have met regularly in the past four years in the “Normandy format” to try to resolve the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed sending a UN peacekeeping force where clashes often occur, along the line separating the rebel-controlled territories and the area under Ukrainian government control. 
The US and Ukraine are concerned such a deployment would solidify the line as the new de facto border between Ukrainian-controlled territory and separatist-controlled territory. Washington and Kiev want peacekeepers assigned throughout the separatist-controlled regions stretching to the Ukraine-Russia border.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been tense since a popular uprising drove a pro-Russian president from power in 2014. Russia went on to annex Crimea from Ukraine and backed a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the country's east. A ceasefire agreement that was signed in February 2015 in Minsk has failed to end the violence, with fighters from both sides violating the peace plan on a nearly daily basis. 
Maas said the talks had been wide ranging and characterised them as “open and constructive”. He expressed hope they would lead to fewer violations of the cease-fire than there had been in recent months.
“We know that there was a lack of will to implement these commitments in the past,” Maas said in a joint news conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian. Maas said all sides agreed that they should stick to the Minsk peace plan from now on, including the removal of heavy weaponry from combat zones and a further exchange of prisoners. France and Germany also offered Ukraine and Russia logistical help for the securing of minefields in the combat zones, he added.
“I am firmly convinced that the political negotiations today are also exerting pressure on the ground,” Maas said, despite the apparent lack of progress in the negotiations.

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