Germany's Heiko Maas has hosted the foreign ministers from Russia and Ukraine, as talks aimed at resolving the Ukraine conflict resumed for the first time in 16 months. Maas has warned that talks will be "tough."
Russian and Ukrainian officials met for first time in over a year on Monday, suggesting the two sides may be prepared to restart efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
However, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who mediated the talks in Berlin along with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, warned ahead of the meeting that "Ukraine and Russia's interests and views lie far apart in many areas."
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"The implementation of the Minsk accords stalled for too long, at the expense of the people in eastern Ukraine, who wish for nothing more ardently than peace," Maas told German daily paper Bild. "I have no illusions — the new start will be difficult."
Berlin's top diplomat also indicated that he hoped Monday's talks would pave the way to resuming talks in the so-called Normandy format — bringing together the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France — with the aim of implementing the 2015 Minsk peace accords agreed in the Belarusian capital.
That agreement has largely proved ineffective, as daily clashes between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian separatists continue, particularly in the Donbass and Luhansk regions.
Maas said he hoped it would be possible to arrange such a summit before the German parliament's summer break, which begins on July 6.
Such an outcome seems hopeful at best, however, given the heightened tensions between the West and Russia. Relations were again tested in March, as several Western states expelled Russian embassy staff over Moscow's alleged poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English town of Salisbury.
Putin's warnings to Kyiv
Ahead of the talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counter Petro Poroshenko shared a rare phone call on Saturday, in which the pair discussed an "exchange of people being held" by both sides.
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The call came just two days after Putin warned that any military "provocations" from Ukraine during the FIFA World Cup in Russia would have "very severe consequences for Ukraine as a state."
Also last week, France with support from Germany drafted a UN Security Council resolution condemning "continuous violations of the ceasefire" and "the tragic humanitarian situation" on the frontline." The resolution went on to back the immediate withdrawal of heavy artillery from the Donbass region by both sides — a proposal adopted unanimously, including by Russia.
dm/msh (dpa, AFP)