French FM calls Russia 'aggressor' in Ukraine conflict


Kiev (AFP)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on a visit to Kiev Friday accused Russia of being directly responsible for the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine as the "aggressor country."

Le Drian said he had discussed "the conflict with Russia" with the Ukrainian authorities, referring to Kiev's struggle with Kremlin-backed separatists in the country's east.

"On this point, I will be very clear. In this crisis, there is for us an aggressor country and an attacked country, and there is no ambiguity," Le Drian told journalists at a joint news conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin.

The remarks came as relations between Paris and Moscow have been strained by disputes over the conflict in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain.

"Russia must organise a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire (and) organise on the ground, and once security conditions are met, we also count on Ukraine to continue implementing measures that fall under its responsibility," said Le Drian, who was paying his first visit to Ukraine.

Under peace agreements signed in Minsk in February 2015, Ukraine is expected to grant greater autonomy to the Russian-backed separatist areas as a key condition for them to return under Kiev's authority.

The armed conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed rebels has claimed more than 10,000 lives since its outbreak in 2014.

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of supporting the separatists by deploying troops and arms, which Moscow denies despite overwhelming evidence.

A string of ceasefire deals have helped to reduce the violence but nevertheless sporadic clashes still erupt between the warring sides.