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4th Mar 2024

Germany urges Russia and Ukraine to resume talks

  • Steinmeier described the Odessa incident as a 'wake-up call' on the gravity of the crisis (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

Germany has urged Russia and Ukraine to come back to negotiations in Geneva after a deadly fire in Odessa.

Its foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told the ARD broadcaster on Sunday (4 May): “In the many discussions I've had in the last couple of hours, I've been campaigning ... to hold a second meeting in Geneva to follow up on the first one.”

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He noted the meeting is needed “finally to make clear agreements on how we can put an end to this conflict and gradually move towards a political solution,” adding that “anything else would be irresponsible because it would only mean there are more victims.”

The EU, Russia, Ukraine and the US already held talks in Geneva in April.

But the Western allies and Ukraine accuse Russia of violating the April accord by continuing to foment unrest, while Russia accuses Ukraine of killing Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

In the worst incident since the insurgency began in February, 38 pro-Russian protesters died in a fire in a trade union building in Odessa, southern Ukraine, on Friday.

Ukrainian security services say the protesters caused their own death by throwing molotov cocktails, some of which backfired.

The EU has urged “an independent investigation".

But Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, speaking at a UN Security Council meeting in New York the same day, said: “Thugs from the ‘Right Sector’ [a Ukrainian nationalist militia] crowded protesters into the trade union building and burned 38 people alive. Such actions are reminiscent of the crimes of the Nazis from whom the Ukrainian ultranationalists derive their ideological inspiration.”

He added that “the complacence of the Western members of the [UN] Security Council” makes the Ukrainians “believe they can act with impunity.”

The British and the US envoys hit back at Churkin, however.

Britain’s Mark Lyall Grant told the meeting that Russia’s version of events in Odessa and more broadly is “yet again, a gross distortion of the facts”.

He noted that what Russia is calling “peaceful activists” in east Ukraine shot down three helicopters using shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. “The use of such sophisticated weaponry against Ukrainian forces reaffirms our assessment that the armed groups in east Ukraine include professionals funded, equipped and directed by Russia,” he said.

The US’ Samantha Power said: “Today’s Russian foreign ministry’s ridiculous and false statement purporting Western intervention [in Ukraine] would not be so alarming if it did not suggest that Moscow is looking for nothing short of a pretext to invade.”

Amid the concern over further escalation, the EU and Germany welcomed the freeing, on Saturday, of seven military officers from EU countries.

The group had been held by rebels in Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, since 25 April, after visiting the region as part of a monitoring mission by the OSCE, a multilateral club based in Vienna.

Steinmeier thanked a Russian envoy, Vladimir Lukin, for expediting their release.

“This should now be followed by the release of all other hostages held by illegally armed groups in east Ukraine,” the EU’s embassy in Kiev said in a statement on Facebook.

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