Charges of 'Open Aggression' Spoil Hopes for Cease Fire in Ukraine
Key parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine meet in Minsk as war of words between leaders and continued violence on the ground give little hope for peace
As high-level talks took place in the city of Minsk, Belarus on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the convening parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire between the Ukraine Army and rebel forces still holding ground in Luhansk, Donetsk, and elsewhere.
Lavrov called on the Ukraine Army to end its shelling of civilian areas and for all parties to quiet their guns so that the necessary negotiations could take place. He also pushed back against accusations that Russian military forces have been directly involved in the fighting and said there were no future plans to do so.
"There will be no military intervention," Lavrov told students at Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Monday, according to the Associated Press. "We call for an exclusively peaceful settlement of this severe crisis, this tragedy."
Speaking ahead of the talks on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the idea of statehood for eastern Ukraine, though his representatives made clear his language was not insinuating "independence" for the eastern regions, but a unified Ukraine that included political self-determination and some level of autonomy.
For his part, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday again accused Russia of giving direct support to rebels who have be able to push back Ukraine Army units in recent days, including reports of forcing a retreat near the main airport in Luhansk on Monday.
"Direct and open aggression has been launched against Ukraine from a neighbouring state," said Poroshenko during a speech at a military academy in Kiev. "This has changed the situation in the zone of conflict in a radical way."
Monday's talks in Minsk included representatives from key parties to the conflict, including: the Kiev government in Ukraine, factions of the separatist rebels in the east, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and Russia. The talks were the next phase of diplomatic engagement set forth by Putin and Poroshenko, who met last week—also in Minsk—to address the conflict.
Representatives from the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, said they were hopeful the proposals they brought to the talks will lead to direct negotiations with Kiev and the end of violence that has claimed thousands of lives over recent months.
“We came to Minsk with proposals," said DPR Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin. "In fact, it’s the preparatory stage of the negotiations, we will try to find as much common ground as possible and curb violence. We have brought proposals [needed] to start consultations and subsequently to launch negotiations.”