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Contact Group on Ukraine to have meeting in Minsk

August 26, 2015, 4:35 UTC+3 MINSK
The subgroup on security may present to the Contact Group on Wednesday two versions of the document on withdrawal from the front line of weapons, which calibre is under 100mm
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MINSK, August 25. /TASS/. The Contact Group on Ukraine and its four working subgroups will meet on Wednesday in Minsk, three weeks after the previous meeting.

Through all the summer months, the peace process clearly did not make progress. Even the issues, on which the Contact Group managed to come to agreements, were not implemented. The document on withdrawal of weapons of calibre under 100mm is still pending, and peace initiatives from the militia, including that on de-militarisation of Shirokino, have not found support from Ukraine. Representatives of the self-proclaimed republics for several past days reported saturation fire on their territories from positions of the Ukrainian military, informed about new victims among civilians; and referring to information from reconnaissance units said Ukraine was preparing for a new attack.

Neither the declared constitutional reform in Ukraine, nor organisation of local elections have been on agenda of discussions between Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR).

Still, a recent meeting in Berlin of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Francois Hollande with Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has given certain hopes the peace process may resume.

New hope

Moscow called the meeting in Berlin an attempt to influence the Ukrainian side. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that was an opportunity for "additional influence on Kiev to convince it that the agreements and commitments accepted in Minsk on February 12 need to be implemented."

At a news conference following the meeting, the participants confirmed their adherence to the Minsk agreements and said it necessary to have another "Normandy Four" summit to give a new impetus to the peace process.

Following day (on Tuesday), Francois Hollande said next meeting of the leaders of the "Normandy Four" (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) may take place in Paris soon.

"The implementation of the Minsk agreements must be accelerated. We discussed this with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday," the French leader said.

Hollande noted that he maintained close contacts with both the German chancellor and Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We talked about organising a new meeting in the 'Normandy format.' It may take place in Paris," he said.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) referred to its sources saying about preparations for a meeting of the four leaders. "In all probability, preparations for a new ‘Normandy four’ meeting on Ukraine are under way. It may take place before the U.N. General Assembly session in New York or possibly right on the Assembly sidelines," the DPA went on to say.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier is one of the German politicians who stands for maintaining close contacts with Moscow, the DPA said.

Agreement on withdrawal: two versions

The subgroup on security may present to the Contact Group on Wednesday two versions of the document on withdrawal from the front line of weapons, which calibre is under 100mm.

At the previous meeting on August 3-4, the working group failed to reach an agreement on withdrawal. Thus, came the two versions of one document. One of them lists disputable issues, and the other one is the version, on which Ukraine insists after having rejected the earlier agreed text.

The initial version on a stage-by-stage withdrawal of tanks, armoured vehicles and weapons of calibre under 100 mm from the front line had been agreed by the Contact Group at its meeting back on July 21. Prior to that, DPR and LPR unilaterally withdrew their weapons of the kind three kilometres from the front line.

President Poroshenko said he ordered his representatives at the Contact Group to sign an agreement on a 30-kilometre buffer zone in Donbass, but the result was, like DPR and LPR leaders said in a joint statement, Kiev sabotaged signing of the document.

"Every time as an agreement is achieved, representatives of Ukraine would give a call to Kiev, receive a no, new conditions, and thus confuse the entire process… Ukraine seems to want the war to continue and thus fails withdrawal of the weapons," the republics’ leaders said in their statement.

However, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has confirmed readiness to pull back heavy weapons under 100mm calibre from the front line in the eastern Donbass region, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with the leaders of Ukraine and France in Berlin.

"It is important to ensure that compliance with the ceasefire regime becomes a reality," Merkel said. "During our latest telephone conversation in the ‘Normandy format’ with the Russian president, we have talked about the need to withdraw weapons under 100mm calibre (from the front line). Today, Pyotr Poroshenko confirmed once again that the Ukrainian side was ready for that."

Are elections coming at all?

The political part of the peace plan causes most problems. Discussions about local elections in the self-proclaimed republics and about a special status for the region have practically come to a deadlock.

Under the Minsk agreements, parties to the conflict should agree these issues, and the decisions are due to be implemented within 2015. However, realistically, the dialogue on the topics has failed, though political subgroup has its meetings most often - every week.

The law on local elections, which the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) adopted on July 14, DPR and LPR leaders say, "does not correlate with what was discussed in Minsk and violates the earlier agreements" on several issues.

Moreover, the law says nothing about the October 25 elections in Donbass regions, which are not controlled by Kiev. Head of the parliament’s committee on legal policies and justice, Ruslan Knyazevich, who presented the bill to legislators, said that norm was fixed "in the final and transition notes" of the law.

Thus, the republics’ leaders announced they were ready to fulfil unilaterally provisions of the Minsk Complex of Measures to settle the conflict, and thus declared they would organise local elections on October 18 in DPR and on November 1 in LPR.

However, President Poroshenko, in a speech after a meeting in Berlin with leaders of Germany and France, called that decision on the elections "a threat to the entire Minsk process."

Running transport blockade

DPR plans to discuss on Wednesday’s meeting of the humanitarian subgroup opening of additional checkpoints at the frontline.

"It is an important issue, as the number of checkpoints nowadays is extremely low," DPR’s human rights ombudsperson, Darya Morozova said several days earlier.

A transport blockade of Donbass began on January 21, 2015. Ukrainian authorities have introduced new regulations for entering and leaving territories of DPR and LPR. In March, Ukraine’s border service stopped allowing vehicles carrying food to Donbass. A complete transport blockade began on June 18. On that day all roads from Donbass were blocked. On June 26, the blockade became less, as private vehicles were allowed to cross the border, though only on roads leading to Kharkov or Mariupol.

Later on, however, on August 17, Ukraine’s National Defence announced it closed again the corridors "due to threats to lives of civilians."

Moscow: direct dialogue necessary

Moscow does not leave hope another meeting in Minsk may favour establishment of a direct dialogue between Kiev and DPR and LPR.

"This is the essence of all agreements concluded in Minsk, without that it is of course impossible to make any progress," Lavrov said a few days ago. "The Ukrainian side is trying to constantly evade dialogue."

"We are really very much concerned over the situation… We are worried by the events of the past few days, which very much look like preparation for regular hostilities. It was like that in August last year, when the Ukrainian army got an order to attack, and it was like that in January this year, when a regular attempt to solve the situation by military force was made," he said.

The Russian foreign minister expressed that hope that the planned series of meetings of the Contact Group and its subgroups will reverse the trend of Kiev’s refusal to hold direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.

"And we, jointly with our partners on the Normandy format, jointly with American colleagues, who assured us that they sincerely want to achieve implementation of Minsk-2, will be able to help organise such a direct dialogue," Lavrov said.

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