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Europe

Hollande, Merkel leave Moscow after Ukraine talks

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-02-07

French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel left Moscow Saturday after presenting a plan for ending the Ukraine conflict to Russian President Vladimir Putin in talks a Putin aide described as "constructive".

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after talks wound up that the Russian, French and German leaders were working on drawing up a plan to end the conflict, calling Friday’s talks “substantial and constructive”.

"Work is under way to prepare the text of a possible joint document to implement the Minsk agreements [of September]," said Peskov. The plan would include proposals from both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin, he added.

The next diplomatic step will be a telephone call planned for Sunday between Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Merkel and Hollande, Peskov said.

Hollande and Merkel departed from Moscow soon after the talks.

The United States and other Western countries contend that Russia has supplied troops and equipment to the separatists in eastern Ukraine who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since April.

The top NATO commander, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said Thursday that Russia continues to supply the separatists with heavy, state-of-the-art weapons, air defenses and fighters.

Russia denies that it has provided material support to the separatists.

'A trap'

More than 5,300 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations. A ceasefire deal was reached in September, but both sides violated it and the fighting has risen sharply in the past two weeks.

Despite authorities in Kiev giving tentative support for the new proposal on Thursday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has said Moscow should just stick to a widely flouted truce accord agreed in Minsk last September.

"To have a new deal, [and] not to execute the previous one, seems to me a trap," Yatseniuk told journalists. "We urge Russia to implement and execute what was agreed, signed personally by President Putin."

Yatseniuk warned that the Russian strongman could be seeking to "split the unity between the EU and the US" at a time when the White House is edging closer to starting weapons deliveries to Ukraine.

‘No military solution’

“Everyone is aware that the first step must be the ceasefire, but that it cannot suffice. We must seek a global solution,” Hollande told journalists in Paris before heading to Moscow.

Even getting the arms to fall silent would be a significant diplomatic breakthrough. The resurgent fighting has fueled fears the conflict is threatening Europe’s overall security and has prompted the US to consider giving lethal weapons to Ukraine, an option opposed by European nations.

Speaking in Berlin ahead of the meeting with Putin, Merkel said she and Hollande would use “all our power with direct visits to Kiev and to Moscow today to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible and to fill the Minsk agreement with life”.

“We are convinced that there’s no military solution to this conflict,” Merkel added. “But we also know that it’s completely open whether we will manage to achieve a ceasefire with these talks.”

She rejected reports that she and Hollande were prepared to offer more territory to the Ukraine separatists, saying, “I will never deal with territorial questions over another country.”

US sceptical

The meeting was viewed with some scepticism in Washington.

“I’m not going to say it’s a positive sign that they’re listening,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said of Russia. “They’ve been listening. They just haven’t been acting.”

Speaking in Brussels, US Vice President Joe Biden questioned Putin’s willingness to seek peace.

Putin “continues to call for new peace plans as his troops roll through the Ukrainian countryside and he absolutely ignores every agreement that his country has signed in the past and that he has signed”, Biden said.

Washington is now considering supplying Ukraine with arms to battle pro-Russian rebels.

Biden was to join US Secretary of State John Kerry, Poroshenko, Merkel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other top world leaders for a three-day security conference in Munich that is expected to be dominated by the conflict in Ukraine.

The head of the conference, former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, called Merkel and Hollande’s trip to Moscow a “last, resolute attempt to implement the Minsk ceasefire agreement”.

“All sides know that fighting over every square metre won’t help anyone. What’s needed now is calm so there can be negotiations,” Ischinger told German public broadcaster ZDF.

Speaking to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the current situation in Ukraine as “critical”, and said every effort must be made to support the diplomatic initiative undertaken by Merkel and Hollande.

Noting that the previous ceasefire agreement “was undermined and violated by the separatists,” he said observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must be be allowed access to monitor the implementation of any new agreement.

Meanwhile, on the ground in eastern Ukraine, the rebels and the Ukrainian authorities briefly halted hostilities Friday to evacuate civilians from Debaltseve, a besieged key railway hub between the two main rebel-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Dozens of buses drove in from both rebel-held and government territory to carry away residents who had been trapped in the crossfire without power, heat or running water for two weeks.

Authorities expected to evacuate about 1,000 civilians from the town Friday, offering them the choice of going to either rebel- or government-controlled territory.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2015-02-06

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