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Europe talks on Ukraine problem

May 6, 2014

A meeting between European foreign ministers in Vienna has yielded many calls for further talks about a solution to the Ukraine crisis. But Moscow and Kyiv show no signs of budging.

Europarat Wien 2014 6.5.14 Außenminister Treffen William Hague
Image: Reuters

The meeting in Vienna on Tuesday brought together numerous European foreign ministers and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The meeting included Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister, Andriy Deshchytsia.

The meeting was designed to get Russia and Ukraine back on track with plans set in Geneva last month to de-escalate the tense standoff between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists that have occupied several buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine.

While Lavrov and Deshchytsia support the idea of another round of talks in Geneva, both had pre-conditions that seem unlikely to be met by the other side.

Moscow is demanding that pro-Russian separatists be included at the negotiating table – a demand Kyiv is refusing to accept – while Ukraine has called on Russia to stop supporting the separatists and recognize national elections that are set to take place on May 25.

Steinmeier pushes fresh talks

In Vienna, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he supported another round of talks in Geneva before the scheduled election date.

The Swiss President of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter, said "we need a ceasefire for the election."

Lavrov, however, said it would be "unusual" to carry out the election at all amidst such violence. However, following a meeting between Steinmeier and Lavrov, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying the two men recognized the importance of joint efforts on the part of Russia, the US, the EU, and the OSCE in assisting the conception of an all-Ukraine dialogue.

In a message on the social network Twitter, the Russian Foreign Ministry's English account posted a picture of the meeting between Steienmeier (pictured left) and Lavrov.

Burkhalter is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, Steinmeier warned that "we are not very far from a military confrontation in Ukraine" in an interview with several European newspapers.

Referendum 'bogus'

On Monday, at least 30 pro-Russian separatists were killed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, according to Ukrainian interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. This brings the death toll in the past week to about 90, most of them being pro-Russian separatists.

Ukraine has increasingly resorted to using its military to move against the separatists who have occupied many buildings in eastern Ukraine and have called their own referendum for independence on Sunday. This would undermine the national election due in Ukraine later in the month.

On Tuesday, the US dismissed calls for the "bogus" separatist referendum: "This is the Crimea play-book all over again," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"No civilized nation will recognize the results," Psaki said.

"And if Russia takes the next step to re-enact its illegal Crimea annexation in eastern or southern Ukraine and sends more forces over the border, harsh US and EU sanctions will follow."

mz/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP)