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Rex Tillerson rebukes Moscow during Ukraine visit

July 9, 2017

The US Secretary of State has called on Russia to honor the 2015 Minsk accord, which calls for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's president, hailed the visit as a strong showing of Washington's support.

Poroshenko shakes hands with Tillerson
Image: picture-alliance/Nikolay Lazar

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had sharp words for Russia over its ongoing support in the deadly separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. He said US and European Union sanctions would remain in effect until Russia takes active steps to deescalate the violence and ultimately withdraw from Ukraine

Read more: Is the Trump administration poised to take on a new role in the Ukraine conflict?

The secretary called on Russia to use its influence with the separatists to fully restore an oft-violated truce, end attacks on international monitors and pull back heavy weaponry to lines agreed upon in the Minsk protocol two years ago.

He said the fundamental goal of the US "is to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty," which would be "required in order for the US and Russia to improve our relationship."

"It is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalate the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine," Tillerson told reporters at a joint news conference Sunday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. "This is necessary for us to make any movement."

"We do call on Russia …to exercise influence over the separatists in the region that they have complete control over," he said, adding later that "the US and EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions."

Read more: Ukrainian Deputy PM: 'Russia not willing to implement Minsk'

Poroshenko hailed Tillerson's visit as a powerful show of Washington's support, just two days after the presidents of the US and Russia spoke privately on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

The Ukrainian president also welcomed Washington's appointment of Kurt Volker as a Special Representative to the Minsk peace process. Volker is a national security expert who is said to be a hawk on Russia.

Seeks to join NATO

The Minsk Protocol is a 2015 agreement that was supposed to impose an immediate ceasefire in the Ukraine's breakaway region in the Donbass, located on the country's eastern flank on the border with Russia.

But Russian-backed separatists have perpetuated frequent bouts of fighting.

Poroshenko said he hoped Volker's expertise will enable him to achieve the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

The president added that Volker, who accompanied Tillerson to Kiev, will stay in the Ukrainian capital for several days to speed up coordination between the US and Ukraine.

Poroshenko was also set to meet with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg as the former Soviet republic seeks to join the western military alliance.

Ukraine passed legislation this weekend to better position itself to join NATO, a step that will likely further strain relations with Russia. The Kremlin strongly opposes any eastward expansion of the Western alliance.

The conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-aligned separatist groups in the Donbas region erupted in 2014 when Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, amid mass protests calling for closer ties with the West.

About 10,000 people have died in the conflict, according to United Nations estimates.

Also on Sunday, the US' guided missile destroyer, the USS Carney, entered the Black Sea for the annual naval Sea Breeze exercise co-hosted by the US and Ukraine. The vessel is on a mission to "demonstrate the US commitment to the collective defense of our NATO allies and partners in the Black Sea region," the US Navy's Sixth Fleet said. 

'Minsk agreement is the only alternative to fighting'

bik/dm(AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)