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‘Difficult’ four-way Ukraine talks pushed to March


German, Russian, Ukrainian and French representatives have agreed to meet again in March after talks in Berlin on the Ukraine crisis failed to achieve a breakthrough.

A member of the US military personnel from the Allied nations deployed to Romania takes part in a ceremony during a visit of the Nato Secretary General and Romania’s President at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Military Base on 11 February 2022. Picture: AFP

BERLIN – German, Russian, Ukrainian and French representatives have agreed to meet again in March after talks in Berlin on the Ukraine crisis failed to achieve a breakthrough, the participants said on Friday.

The “difficult talks” in the so-called four-way Normandy format late Thursday lasted more than nine hours, French and German sources close to negotiators said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters they had achieved “no results” and some diplomats “have problems with reading the very short and extremely clear” text of the 2015 Minsk peace agreement between Kyiv and Moscow.

“Unfortunately the Ukrainian side is doing everything not to fulfil its commitments,” Peskov added.

However, the French and German sources said all four countries remain committed to the Minsk agreement and will “continue to work with vigour on implementing it”.

They have agreed to gather again in March after the next meetings of the so-called Trilateral Contact Group, which includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the sources said.

The Normandy format was launched in 2014 in a bid to end fighting between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Mediation between Russia and Ukraine by Berlin and Paris led to the Minsk agreement of 2015, but Kyiv and Moscow regularly accuse each other of violating its terms.

Tensions have escalated in recent months due to Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine, with Western governments fearing Russia is planning to invade its neighbour.

According to the French presidency, the discussions Thursday focused on political questions such as whether Ukraine should negotiate with the separatists, as well as humanitarian questions such as the release of prisoners.

RED LINE

“Russia agreed to the substance of the negotiations, but ultimately insisted that … Ukraine negotiate directly with the separatists, which is Ukraine’s only red line,” it said.

“The situation is very tense,” Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for the French government, told Europe 1 radio, but “we are continuing to make progress on the diplomatic front”.

Ukrainian negotiator Andriy Yermak, who is also chief of staff of President Volodymyr Zelensky, told reporters after the meeting that all participants were “determined to continue these negotiations”.

“We greatly appreciate Germany’s support for our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, adding that Ukraine was “very much looking forward” to welcoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday.

Scholz will also head to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

At a regular government press conference on Friday, Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said there was “no sign of de-escalation in the current situation and we deeply regret this”.

“We ask Russia and Belarus to contribute to de-escalation, especially in view of the military manoeuvres that are beginning in the border region,” Hebestreit said.

Moscow on Thursday rolled its tanks across Belarus for live-fire drills and sent six warships through the Bosphorus for planned naval drills on the Black Sea and the neighbouring Sea of Azov.

Kyiv and Western allies have condemned both actions.





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