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Lavrov: Parties in Donbass can reach agreement if there is political will

The exchange of detainees carried out on the eve of the New Year confirmed that, according to the Russian foreign minister

MOSCOW, February 1. /TASS/. The parties to the conflict in the Donbass region can reach an agreement if they show a political will, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday following talks with top Italian diplomat and current OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Angelino Alfano.

"Alfano mentioned that the parties can come to an agreement when they show political will," Lavrov said. "I agree with that, and the exchange of detainees carried out on the eve of the New Year confirmed that."

Russia’s top diplomat noted that Contact Group members are discussing the continuation of this process. "We expect the Ukrainian side to comply with the agreements that have been reached, because the exchange took place thanks to the constructive stance of Donetsk and Lugansk, since, in contrast to the initial agreements, the Ukrainian government handed over fewer people to Donbass than it pledged."

Lavrov also said that Russia and the self-proclaimed Donbass republics were prepared to display certain flexibility in the Normandy Format and the Contact Group in implementing the "Steinmeier formula."

"There (in the Minsk Accords) it is stated clearly what is expected to be done, who is expected to do it and when. This sequence is of fundamental importance," he said.

"Nevertheless the Russian side in the course of activities in the Normandy Format group (Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine) and the Contact Group (the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, and Donetsk and Lugansk republics) is prepared to display certain flexibility together with the self-proclaimed republics, including the enforcement of the law on the special status of Donbass under the Steinmeier formula, which had been agreed by the Normandy Format leaders in October 2015 but has failed to be committed to paper to this day due to Ukraine’s stance, " he added.

"This fact is outrageous, just as a number of other facts characteristic of the Ukrainian side’s behavior," Lavrov said. "We’ve shared them with our Italian counterparts."

At the end of 2015 the then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed a settlement formula for Donbass that envisaged the enforcement of a law on the special rules of local self-government in some areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions on the temporary basis on the day of local elections in Donbass and on the permanent basis after the publication of the OSCE’s report on their results.

On December 27, 2017, a prisoner swap, the largest so far, took place near the line of engagement in Donbass. Kiev handed over 233 prisoners to the Donbass republics and received 73 in return. Both parties stressed that the prisoner exchange process had not been completed and they were determined to do everything possible to continue it in 2018.