Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats began high-level talks in Geneva on Thursday after Kiev suffered setbacks in its eastern provinces, where armed pro-Russian separatists have seized several public buildings.
The talks between Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian, US and EU counterparts aim to find common ground to ease the separatist crisis a day after the bloodiest episode in the month-long insurgency. Three pro-Russian assailants were killed on Wednesday night during an attempted raid on a Ukrainian National Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, according to the country’s authorities.
The talks come as Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a four-hour question-and-answer session on television in which he said the east of Ukraine was once part of Russia, and warning that his parliament had given him the right to intervene militarily if confrontation intensified.
FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Douglas Herbert, believes there is little hope that diplomats in Geneva will resolve the conflict.
"Their views are so divergent that you start to wonder where will they start," Herbert says. "On the one hand, basically having the US and Ukraine pointing the finger squarely at Russia and Vladimir Putin for fomenting this unrest by backing these militias – which Russia denies it has anything to do with. On the other hand, Russia … saying that, in fact, the government in Kiev is full of fascists and neo-nazis bent on making life as hard and as tough as possible on the Russian speakers who are dominant in the eastern part of Ukraine."
Diplomats are expected to address several thorny issues: how to demobilise pro-Russia separatist militias in eastern Ukraine, whether Kiev should accept some decentralisation to give its eastern provinces more autonomy, and when Moscow will pull back the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on the frontier.
Putin’s nostalgia for 'Novorossiya'
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said the collapse of trust between Moscow and Kiev would make progress difficult.
"I don’t have excessive expectations for the simple reason that I don’t trust the Russian side … Nothing that they say corresponds to reality and everything that they show [on television] is propaganda and lies," the Ukrainian leader said.
His remarks came after Putin rejected claims that Russian special forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking in televised call-in show, Putin had earlier demanded that the new government in Kiev, which replaced the ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych following mass street protests, transform the country into a loose federation. Ukraine has rejected the demand but promised to give the regions more power.
Putin repeated his argument that regions in eastern Ukraine historically had been part of the Russian empire and were called "Novorossiya", or "New Russia", before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.
But he also seemed to keep the door open for Russia to recognise Ukraine’s presidential election set for May 25, softening his previous demand that it must be postponed until the northern autumn and preceded by a referendum on broader powers for the regions.
He added that the primary goal was to ensure that people in the east should be offered clear guarantees of the protection of their rights.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-17