Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Germany, France urge Ukraine summit with Putin

EVERYBODY’S TALKING:Talks are to be held today in Berlin aimed at a four-nation summit in Minsk on Wednesday as leaders try to prevent the conflict from spiraling

Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a meeting with members of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia in Sochi, Russia, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed to push ahead with talks on a possible settlement of the Ukrainian conflict, including a tentative peace summit within days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande discussed the initiative during a “detailed” conference call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko yesterday, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in an e-mailed statement.

Talks would resume today in Berlin aimed at preparing a summit of the four leaders in Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday, he said.

The diplomacy may determine whether a tenuous peace takes hold or a wider war breaks out.

A breakdown would also strain trans-Atlantic unity in dealing with Russia, as Europe’s consensus on economic sanctions shows signs of fraying.

“Aren’t we already close to the point of no return?” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the Munich Security Conference earlier yesterday. “I’m convinced it would be irresponsible to fail to grasp what may be the final chances to solve the conflict.”

Merkel and Hollande stepped up peace efforts over the past week after fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists escalated, prompting concern that the rebellion will widen into a broader conflict.

The plan being discussed by German, French and Russian officials foresees a demilitarized zone of 50km to 70km and greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine, Hollande told France 2 television on Saturday.

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, speaking at the Munich meeting, warned against letting the fighting slide into a “raging war.”

Looming over the negotiations is the prospect of deeper sanctions on Russia, an economic collapse in Ukraine and the risk that the conflict descends into a proxy war. In Ukraine, government forces destroyed 14 units of rebel military equipment, including tanks and rocket launchers, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said yesterday.

For Russia, a breakdown in the talks could mean further strictures on an economy faced with a 46 percent plunge of the ruble against the dollar. At the same time, there are no signs that Putin, whose approval ratings are still at 85 percent, will change tack.

With some US officials and senators advocating weapons shipments to Ukrainian forces, Merkel stiffened her opposition to military aid as she prepares to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House today.

“The progress Ukraine needs won’t be achieved with more weapons,” she said. “There’s no way to win this militarily — that’s the bitter truth. The international community has to think of a different approach.”

Meanwhile, Britain yesterday accused Putin of acting like a “tyrant” over Ukraine, but said Kiev’s forces could not defeat Russia’s army on the battlefield and that only a political solution could end the bloodshed.

The comments, by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, were his toughest yet on Russia.

“Ukrainians can’t beat the Russian army, that’s not a practical proposition. There has to be a political solution,” he told Sky News. “This man [Putin] has sent troops across an international border and occupied another country’s territory in the 21st century acting like some mid-20th century tyrant. Civilized nations do not behave like that.”

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