Talks in Berlin on the situation in eastern Ukraine have brought proposals for improving security but no breakthrough on a political process. There is no agreement yet on holding local elections.
The German foreign minister conceded there had been no breakthrough but said agreements within the group to improve communication and stop military training along the frontlines in eastern Ukraine should prevent any escalation of the conflict if the plans were put into action.
The Normandy Format foreign ministers - Sergey Lavrov of Russia, Pavlo Klimkin of Ukraine, Jean-Marc Ayrault of France and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany - posed for a picture outside the foreign ministry's Villa Borsig in Berlin on Wednesday ahead of their meeting to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
The Normandy Format is the name given to the group of senior government figures from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France who are trying to resolve the situation in eastern Ukraine. The group first met in June 2014 in Normandy, France, during the 70th anniversary of operations during the Second World War.
Steinmeier said the atmosphere at the Villa Borsig on Wednesday was better than at the previous meeting in Paris: "In the area of security, we made significant progress," he said, referring to a plan to separate military units along the front line and to create demilitarized zones. "There were proposals from both sides with concrete coordinates and deadlines."
Steinmeier set out the goals for the talks: to extend the talks and make progress with the political process:
with later, news of progress on security issues:
Steinmeier warned that the 2015 Minsk peace accord to Ukraine could be undermined if there was no progress in putting the agreement into effect, escalating the conflict in which 9,300 people have already died in the last two years.
No program for local elections
The three hours of talks in Berlin broke up without a plan for local elections to be held in eastern Ukraine. A series of questions were outstanding - including whether or not people who had left the region would have a vote.
"These are questions of detail that might appear small, but they are important for creating the basis for local elections in Ukraine," Steinmeier said. "Security isn't everything in eastern Ukraine, but there can't be anything without security and so I'm quite satisfied with this part of the talks today," he added.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin mirrored Steinmeier's comments: "We can't talk about elections," Klimkin said, "without delivering security right now." Klimkin blamed Russia for rejecting a plan to allow the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor security for local elections in eastern Ukraine.
The next deadline looming for the group is a vote by European Union leaders in six weeks time. The EU will decide if sanctions imposed on Russia for its role in supporting pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine should be prolonged, modified or ended.
jm/kms (dpa, AP, AFP)