Russian, German and Polish officials met in St. Petersburg to advance Ukraine peace talks after President Petro Poroshenko called for an evacuation corridor so civilians can flee fighting in the country’s battle-torn east.
A day after Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said peace talks with Russia were yielding progress, Poroshenko ordered Ukrainian regions to accept refugees from areas where government forces are combating separatists who want to join Russia. Ukrainian troops repelled attacks on airfields in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, killing 43 rebels, according to counter-terror operation spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov.
Clashes raged after three-way meetings between Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Kiev reached agreement on implementing a peace plan drawn up by Poroshenko and priorities for de-escalation in Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The former Soviet republic blames Russian President Vladimir Putin for fomenting the unrest.
“We’re at the point where there is the real possibility of achieving a cease-fire,” Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is also the chairman of the OSCE, said in Bern today.
Ukraine’s U.S. and European allies have imposed sanctions on Russia and threatened to tighten them unless Putin acts to ease tensions in which hundreds have died and more have been abducted in fighting between the rebels and government troops. Russia says Ukraine must stop using armed force against its own citizens in the mostly Russian-speaking east.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his German and Polish counterparts, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Radoslaw Sikorski, arrived at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Speaking at the start of talks in the former Russian capital, Lavrov called for an immediate end to violence in Ukraine and said it was willing to assist in talks between the government in Kiev and its regions.
Poland’s Sikorski defended Ukraine’s actions, saying there was no threat in Ukraine’s efforts to deepen ties with the EU, which Russia opposes, and that membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was “not on the agenda.” He said the government had the right to use force against illegal groups “but I hope now that the time has come for dialog.”