Russia, Ukraine step up peace talks

Russia, Ukraine step up peace talks

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 6:29 am

Putin  and  Poroshenko in Milan

Putin and Poroshenko in Milan

Fragile peace talks aimed at ending the separatist war between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels are due to resume Wednesday, a day after Kiev angered Moscow by taking a historic step towards NATO.

The talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk are expected to bring together envoys from Ukraine, Russia, pro-Moscow separatists and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Progress in the peace efforts had been in doubt for more than two weeks and Tuesday’s vote by the Ukrainian parliament to drop the country’s non-aligned status put further pressure on the delicate process.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted to the vote by demanding that the ex-Soviet state “put an end to confrontation” and stop adopting “absolutely counterproductive” measures.

And Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said even more bluntly that “in essence, an application for NATO membership will turn Ukraine into a potential military opponent for Russia”.

President Petro Poroshenko had vowed to put Ukraine under Western military protection after winning an election following the ouster of Ukraine’s then Moscow-backed president in February.

“European and Euro-Atlantic integrations — that is Ukraine’s single course,” Poroshenko tweeted moments after the 303-8 vote in the government-controlled chamber.

Ukraine assumed de facto neutrality under strong Russian pressure in 2010. It had sought NATO membership in the early post-Soviet era but was never viewed as a serious candidate.

The revolution in Kiev upset Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to enlist Ukraine in a new bloc he was forging in order to counterbalance NATO and the European Union.

And Moscow had set Kiev’s exclusion from all military unions as a condition for any deal on ending the pro-Russian uprising that has killed 4,700 in the eastern Ukrainian rustbelt in the past eight months.

Putin’s view of NATO as modern Russia’s biggest threat has only been reinforced by this year’s dramatic spike in East-West tensions over Ukraine.

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