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Spotlight: Hollande, Merkel enhance diplomacy over Ukraine, Russia expects constructive tripartite talks

Xinhua, February 6, 2015 Adjust font size:

The escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine might reach a turning point as French and German leaders visited Kiev and Moscow to push a new peace plan while Russia said it was looking forward to the "constructive" tripartite talks.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprise trip to Kiev and met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss ways to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The 10-month-old conflict between government troops and pro-independence forces in Donetsk and Lugansk regions has killed over 5,300 people since April 2014 and intensified sharply over the past two weeks.

During their meeting, Poroshenko reiterated the importance of a full implementation of the Minsk peace agreement for resolving the conflict, his press service said in a statement.

In particular, the Ukrainian president stressed the need to ensure a ceasefire, continue the swap of prisoners of war and hold local elections under Ukrainian legislation in the conflict-torn territories.

However, there was neither any revelation about the coordinated German- French diplomatic initiative nor a joint declaration by the three leaders after their talks although Poroshenko said the meeting "gave hope that there will be a result in a ceasefire."

Before leaving for Ukraine, Hollande said during a press conference in Paris that his visit to Kiev with Merkel was arranged in an attempt to strike a new deal acceptable to all confronting parties in Ukraine. He also stressed he would not support Ukraine's entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a stance welcomed by Moscow.

Following the Kiev visit, Hollande and Merkel, who brokered a first ice-breaking meeting with Ukrainian and Russian leaders in June 2014, planned to head for Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

In Moscow, presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said that Russia is ready to host constructive negotiations with partners so as to achieve agreements for resolving the crisis in eastern Ukraine. He also said the Kremlin expected that Merkel and Hollande had taken Putin's own peace proposals into account.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the tripartite talks involving Putin, Hollande and Merkel, are scheduled to be held in Moscow at 5 p.m. local time (1400 GMT).

The three leaders are to discuss particular measures that could "contribute to the speedy end of the civil war in Ukraine which significantly deteriorated and led to multiple casualties in the recent days," Peskov said.

Agreements are expected to be reached on Friday to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine, set up direct contacts between conflicting parties, facilitate the work of the contact group, as well as restore the economic ties between the Kiev government and eastern regions.

The trip by Hollande and Merkel came as concerns rose about whether the United States would supply weapons to Ukraine and as NATO formed a rapid-reaction force of 5,000 soldiers to counter possible Russian actions in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kiev on Thursday and discussed crisis in Ukraine with Poroshenko. Unlike Merkel and Hollande, he is not coming to Russia, though Moscow welcomes his visit.

In response to possible U.S. weapons supplies to Ukraine, Moscow warned on Thursday that it would not only escalate the conflict in Ukraine, but also threaten Russia's security.

"We are very seriously concerned by these plans. Taking into account the retaliatory plans of Kiev's 'party of war', this could not only escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but also threaten the security of Russia," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said, warning such a decision could "significantly damage the Russian-U.S. relations."

According to Lukashevich, the West's possible weapon assistance to Kiev is especially dangerous, because the Ukrainian government troops confronting the insurgents have allegedly used weapons equivalent to weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, the spokesman said any military decisions of NATO would be "fully considered" in Russia's military planning. Endit