Saturday

20th Apr 2019

EU and US hail implementation of Ukraine 'truce'

  • OSCE says situation 'calm' except for 'a few explosions and sporadic small-arms fire' (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The EU and US have welcomed the halt of rogue elections in Russia-occupied Ukraine, but concessions could harm pro-Western leaders in Kiev.

The EU foreign service said on Tuesday (6 October) the election decision "offers renewed hope for a sustainable political settlement".

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Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said the US "welcomes" the election move.

"People living in the separatist-controlled areas deserve to pick their local officials in elections that meet international standards".

Local chiefs in the Russia-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk "republics" in east Ukraine earlier on Tuesday announced they’ll no longer hold their own votes in late October and early November, as planned.

The OSCE, the international monitoring group on the conflict, also reported that both sides are pulling back weapons.

It said the situation is "calm", except for "a few explosions and sporadic small-arms fire".

In a sign of confidence in the ceasefire, local authorities in Russia-occupied Dokuchaievsk told monitors that displaced people are coming home. They said the town's population is 21,000, compared to 13,000 in January, and 25,000 before the fighting.

The developments come after French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders held talks in Paris last Friday.

The new "truce" resulted in modification of the "Minsk 2" ceasefire accord.

Under Minsk, rebels were to hold elections under Ukrainian law, foreign forces were to leave Ukraine, and Russia was to give it back control of its borders by the end of the year.

Under Paris, Ukraine is to pass a special law on the Donetsk and Luhansk votes and implementation is to lag into 2016.

Tuesday's EU statement noted the special elections must be held "in line with Ukrainian legislation and OSCE standards under ODIHR [a branch of the OSCE] monitoring".

It also said the special vote will mark "a fundamental step towards full implementation of the Minsk agreements".

Its Minsk comment is a sign the EU is prepared to relax Russia economic sanctions early next year.

For his part, Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, told the Tass news agency on Tuesday "it's important to restore a climate of partnership and full trust [with Russia]".

Xavier Bettel, the Luxembourg PM, also discussed EU sanctions relief when he met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Tuesday.

The tiny Duchy is, on paper, the third largest foreign investor in Russia after Cyprus and the Netherlands, due to funds channelled to Russia through its financial sector.

The US is still working with the EU on extra sanctions if the truce unravels.

Robert Person, a Russia expert at the US military academy at West Point, wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday the new deal should be seen "skeptically".

He noted that if pro-Western leaders stay in power in Kiev, despite a frozen conflict in the east, it "would [still] be a major failure of Russian foreign policy".

Meanwhile, the special law on Donbas and Luhansk elections could harm Ukraine leader Petro Poroshenko.

If he gives the Russia-controlled regimes what they want - a say on what they call their "foreign policy" and blanket amnesty for what Kiev calls their "terrorists" - he risks a nationalist backlash.

But if he doesn't, he risks erosion of EU support on grounds of Paris non-compliance.

Nationalist protests in Kiev in September, over Poroshenko's new law on decentralisation, resulted in violence outside parliament which killed three policemen.

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