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Russia worried over Kiev’s statements about revision of Minsk accords - Lavrov

Russia is alarmed to hear Kiev’s statements on the revision of the Minsk agreements in case of the absence of immediate steps towards their implementation

MOSCOW, February 10. /TASS/. Russia is alarmed to hear Kiev’s statements on the revision of the Minsk agreements in case of the absence of immediate steps towards their implementation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Rossiskaya Gazeta daily.

"We are worried over [Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim] Priskaiko’s recent statements that in case no positive steps are taken in the near future, by Russia again, Kiev may look at an alternative to the Minsk agreements," he said. "And what kind of alternatives? The ones our American colleagues, and the Kiev authorities with their backing, have been enthusiastically pushing for: control of the border first and then everything will be all right."

Lavrov recalled that Russian President in reply to such words had repeatedly drawn attention to "who are consolidating under neo-Nazi slogans in Ukraine and how they threaten to use force." "Even the new government and the new Verkhovna Rada say that a force scenario cannot be ruled out," the Russian top diplomat went on to say. "And should these people be given control over the border? If it come that way, there could be no talk about [Donbass’] special status, local elections, and the rest."

"They will simply strangle the local population," he noted. "And even if Ukraine’s authorities don’t want to use force against Donbass’ residents, I don’t see that paramilitary battalions, which are quite strong there, are ready to implement the orders of the supreme commander in chief. All saw how [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky visited the frontline to persuade to disengage forces and weapons in the areas that were agreed back in 2015."

Ambassadorial exchange

Diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine soured because of Kiev’s policies and Moscow will have no objections if Ukraine decides to resume the exchange of ambassadors, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"It was not our fault. Ukraine withdrew its ambassador and threatened to sever diplomatic relations," he said. "However, some people are saying that [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky may return the country’s ambassador [to Moscow]. We will not object to that," Lavrov added.

Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations in 2014. Russia did the same in 2016.

The Russian top diplomat pointed out that close economic and humanitarian ties still existed between Moscow and Kiev. "It is unreasonable to keep building barriers, no matter if it is air and railway transport or communication between people," he noted.

Lavrov went on to say that he had held only one meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Vadim Pristaiko, and his meetings with Ukraine’s former top diplomat Pavel Klimkin had only taken place on the sidelines of the Normandy Four talks and the ministerial meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "Every time, we met during these events and held either one-on-one conversations or meetings involving our aides," Lavrov said. "I can’t say that those conversations were aggressive. Many of our Ukrainian partners seek to adopt a pragmatic approach to issues that are harmful particularly to Ukraine and Ukrainians," he added.

At the same time, Ukrainian diplomats act differently in public, the Russian foreign minister said, noting that the influence of radical nationalists could be the reason.

"However, we are interested in maintaining contacts," Lavrov emphasized.

Disengage forces

Ukraine refused to put on paper a plan concerning the disengagement of forces along the entire line of contact in Donbass because the US had insisted on it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview.

"It’s really not a secret, we know that Ukraine took such a stance at the Normandy Four summit at Washington’s insistence, because the US doesn’t want the Minsk Agreements to be implemented, it doesn’t want security to be ensured on both sides of the line of contact," he said. "Apparently, it is in the US interest to maintain the conflict in a controlled state in relation to the United States’ plans for the post-Soviet countries," the Russian top diplomat added.

Lavrov pointed out that an agreement on the disengagement of forces along the entire line of contact had been reached ahead of the summit and Ukraine had supported the initiative. However, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky demanded at the December 9 meeting in Paris that the previously reached agreements be reviewed, saying that since the disengagement of forces in three areas - near the Petrovskoye, Zolotoye and Stanitsa Luganskaya settlements - had taken over five months, then the entire line of contact would take ten to 15 years.

"The logic is strange," the Russian foreign minister noted. "If there are delays before the disengagement process is conducted in a settlement, then it could even take half a century. Then again, Putin suggested writing it down that the parties would begin with another three settlements but the final goal they would work to achieve is to withdraw forces from the line of contact. Complete denial was the response," Lavrov said.

"Still, we are confident that the Contact Group - which is a platform for resolving all issues concerning prisoner exchanges and the disengagement of forces - will remain focused on ensuring the full implementation of all agreements and paying attention to humanitarian and economic issues, though Kiev keeps ignoring the way they need to be resolved under the Minsk Agreements, as well as the political process," Lavrov emphasized.

The Normandy Four summit, which took place in Paris on December 9, involved French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. The four leaders reaffirmed their commitment to implementing a comprehensive ceasefire in Donbass before the end of 2019. They also voiced support for a plan to carry out the disengagement of forces in three more areas in Donbass.

Progress in resolving Donbass issue

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has shown political will, ensuring progress in resolving the conflict in the country’s southeast, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview.

"It certainly is a positive thing that Zelensky showed political will despite a very complicated political situation in Ukraine and finally implemented the decisions made at two Normandy Four summits, held in Paris in 2015 and in Berlin in 2016," he pointed out. "Progress has been achieved in detainee exchanges and the disengagement of forces," Lavrov added.

The Russian top diplomat noted that an agreement on gas issues had been reached following a Paris meeting between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donbass republics had carried out a detainee exchange in late December.

"It is very important that the December 2019 summit in Paris adopted a document, which emphasizes the need to continue the disengagement of forces and deter ceasefire violations, as well as the importance of the political process in accordance with the Minsk Agreements, including the Steinmeier Formula, and the need to enshrine the special status of Donbass in Ukrainian laws," Lavrov added.