The foreign ministers of France and Germany have urged Ukraine to continue its program of reforms and to fight against corruption. The ministers are making a joint trip to Kyiv ahead of talks with Russia next week.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault flew in to Berlin to review foreign affairs with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier before the two men set off for Kyiv on Monday.
Fluent German-speaker Ayrault was only appointed to the Foreign Ministry earlier this month after Laurent Fabius was named as head of France's Constitutional Council, the body which ensures laws comply with the constitution. The 66-year-old Ayrault served as French prime minister from 2012 to 2014 but has never served in a diplomatic role.
In Berlin, Ayrault hailed Germany's "courage" in opening its borders to refugees, saying "The German people are acting with a courage that invites respect."
He added that both Paris and Berlin wished to "improve the control of refugees and stop irregular migrants." France plans to accept 30,000 refugees, while Germany took in more than a million last year.
Joint approach toward Ukraine
Berlin and Paris have led efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine that has claimed more than 9,000 lives in fighting between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in the east of the country. But the Minsk II peace plan signed last year expired at the end of 2015 with few of its provisions met.
A high-ranking Ukrainian diplomat told the AFP news agency that the visit represented "a very serious signal that France will continue being an active player in attempts to find a settlement" to Kyiv's 22-month conflict with pro-Russian rebels.
On their arrival in Kyiv on Monday evening, Steinmeier and Ayrault met with representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors a ceasefire agreement in the east of Ukraine, according to the German Foreign Ministry.
The French Foreign Ministry called the visit to Ukraine by Steinmeier and Ayrault "an opportunity to take stock with the Ukrainian authorities on the progress of reforms and the implementation of the Minsk accord."
"In return for our solidarity and support, we rely on the affirmation of political powers in Ukraine to continue the course of reforms," Ayrault and Steinmeier wrote in a statement published in Monday's edition of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung."
The ministers said Ukraine was in urgent need of reforms and called on politicians to "remain true to the spirit of Maidan." The second anniversary of the protests directed at the former pro-Russian regime was marked with a number of commemorations over the weekend.
Ukraine's pro-Western coalition lost its legislative majority in parliament last week.
"A return on the road to reform is important," Steinmeier told a joint press conference with Ayrault before their departure for Kyiv on Monday.
"We come to Ukraine in the midst of a political crisis," said Ayrault, but added: "We will support Ukraine."
The two ministers are due to meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on Tuesday before departing later in the day.
Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia are due to meet in Paris next week for talks intended to revive the Minsk ceasefire agreement.
jm/rc (AFP, dpa)