Monday

21st Jan 2019

Paris talks end in Russia-Ukraine 'truce'

  • The Paris talks lasted five hours (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russia-Ukraine talks in Paris ended Friday (2 October) with a deal on rogue elections and weapons pull-backs.

But French leader Francois Hollande, who hosted the event, said there's no prospect of fulfilling the so-called Minsk ceasefire pact by the end of the year, creating a new timetable which bears implications for EU sanctions.

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  • Putin also held bilaterals with Merkel and Hollande (Photo: kremlin.ru)

"We don't want elections to be held in eastern Ukrainian territories under conditions that would not respect Minsk”, he told press.

“It's therefore likely, even certain now, that - since we need three months to organise [the] elections [in Russia-occupied Ukraine] - we would go beyond the date that was set for the end of the Minsk [process], that is to say [beyond] 31 December 2015”.

He said Ukraine will pass a special law on how to conduct the votes, including on the role of international observers, and legal amnesty for rebel chiefs who run for power.

Hollande added that, despite the Minsk delays: “There are fewer victims [now] and the protagonists are talking, so progress is being made”.

Other Paris decisions include: promises by Russia and Ukraine to pull back small-calibre weapons, such as mortars, over the next 41 days, starting Saturday; greater access to occupied territories for the OSCE, an international monitoring group; deployment of more OSCE observers; and a new OSCE demining operation.

The Russia-controlled “republics” - the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) - in east Ukraine had planned to hold rogue elections on 18 October and 1 November, in violation of Minsk.

The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, left Paris without briefing press.

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Kremlin aides will make contact with DNR and LNR leaders in the next days on postponing the votes.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said Putin has “committed” to “establishing conditions that would allow elections to take place according to Minsk, based on Ukrainian law”.

“When we look at the provisions of Minsk, nothing has [so far] been respected 100 percent”, she added.

“We achieved what we could today”.

Poroshenko, who shook hands with Putin, said the Paris talks amount to a “truce”.

“It means that there is truce. The war will be over when the last piece of Ukrainian land is liberated. The war will not be over until we get back the occupied territories".

Syria, sanctions

The talks lasted five hours. They also involved two, separate, Hollande-Putin and Merkel-Putin tete-a-tetes.

The extension of the Minsk deadline poses questions for EU sanctions on Russia, which are to expire in January, but only if Minsk is fulfilled.

The Paris event comes after Putin began air-strikes in Syria, prompting speculation he'll try to trade Syria co-operation for lifting the EU measures.

But for her part, Merkel told media: “We don’t associate the question of Syria with Minsk … these questions aren't linked”.

Merkel and Hollande also complained that Russia’s strikes are hitting moderate, pro-Western rebels in Syria.

“We said very clearly that Daesh is the enemy that should be targeted”, Merkel said, using an alternative name for Islamic State.

Words, actions

The Paris “truce” comes shortly after the OSCE reported sightings of a new Russian weapons system in Ukraine.

It said on Monday its people “spotted … one heavy multiple launch thermobaric rocket system (TOS-1 Buratino, 220mm)” in Kruhlyk, in a Russia-occupied part of the Luhansk region.

Buratino rockets kill indiscriminately by covering wide areas in flames.

For his part, Raimonds Vejonis, the Latvian president, told the Wall Street Journal ahead of the Paris meeting: “It’s very difficult to trust such a partner [Putin]”.

Samuel Greene, a Russia expert at King’s College, in London, also cast doubt on Russia's new "commitments".

“The thing about Vladimir Putin is, it really doesn’t matter what he says”, Greene wrote in The Atlantic, a US publication, on Friday.

“While we don’t yet understand Putin’s plan in Syria, we do know what he’s after in Ukraine: A permanently frozen conflict that leaves the Ukrainian government in Kiev eternally less than sovereign, depriving a country of 45 million people of any real purchase on its own political or economic future”.

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