Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has agreed to host talks that Minsk has said are open to "all interested sides." The discussions are expected to focus on access to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Lukashenko (pictured above), once described by Washington as "Europe's last dictator," to host the talks, with access to the MH17 crash site deemed of paramount importance after observers were hampered in their latest mission. The talks were expected to involve Russia's ambassador to Kyiv, Mikhail Zurabov and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. It remains unclear if pro-Russian separatist fighters would attend. Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, spoke to DW about what scope the talks might have.
How might Alexander Lukashenko improve the situation and bring anything new to the talks between the separatists and Kyiv?
At this point, nobody's talking about a serious political settlement. I think at this point we're very much talking about baby steps, in terms of access in and around the crash site, but as everyone knows, that's proving very difficult. Don't expect any magic solutions.
How realistic is it that there might be improved access to the crash site and would the separatists have anything to gain?
In some ways, what's done is done. The crash site has been mistreated and that's not something that the Lukashenko mediation is going to change as far as, for instance, other European countries are concerned. That's something that's going to be quite lasting and damaging for both the separatists and for Mr. Putin.
Is it in some way a surprise that Poroshenko asked Lukashenko to get involved? Might he not be seen by many as being too close to Moscow?
I think he's much more independent than that. He's done a lot to make himself a desirable interlocutor for the Ukrainians and I think he's a very canny operator. He's not in Moscow's pocket.
How likely is Lukashenko to have any sway over the separatists and be successful in gaining access to the crash site?
I think it's quite hard to see the separatists as unified. There are a lot of competing agendas. In some respects, the separatists' political leaders like Mr Borodai (prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic) will do what Moscow asks them to do but they're not in full control of the groups that are on the ground fighting.
What advantage might hosting the talks have for Lukashenko?
Lukashenko has skillfully used this crisis to bolster his own regional standing and to make himself more valuable to Western governments like the United States.
Andrew Weiss oversees research on Russia and Eurasia for the Carnegie Endowment in Washington and was a former security adviser to US President Bill Clinton.