Moscow and Kiev take step forward with commitment to end Ukraine tensions

Geneva talks end with deal to ‘de-escalate tensions and boost security for all citizens’

US secretary of state John Kerry (centre) and EU high representative Catherine Ashton leave the stage after speaking to the media following a quadrilateral meeting in Geneva  yesterday between representatives of the US, Ukraine, Russia and the EU about the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Photograph: Reuters/Jim Bourg

US secretary of state John Kerry (centre) and EU high representative Catherine Ashton leave the stage after speaking to the media following a quadrilateral meeting in Geneva yesterday between representatives of the US, Ukraine, Russia and the EU about the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Photograph: Reuters/Jim Bourg

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 01:00

After months of fruitless diplomacy and missed exit ramps, Moscow and Kiev took a step towards each other yesterday by committing to end tensions in Ukraine.

Seven hours of talks, assisted by the US and EU, ended in Geneva with both sides agreeing a last-chance diplomatic solution to “de-escalate tensions and boost security for all citizens”.

The omens for yesterday’s meeting were not good, beginning hours after three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in Ukraine’s southeast during a raid on a military base. As delegates arrived, Russian president Vladimir Putin attacked Kiev on television and accused the West of double standards on international law.

But when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov failed to appear for a 2pm press conference, Geneva officials said he was meeting US secretary of state John Kerry in a private session.

News spread of a second round of talks to haggle over a joint document. After seven hours, the four sides emerged with a seven-paragraph paper calling on all groups in Ukraine to end “violence, intimidation or provocative actions”, hand in their weapons and withdraw from illegally occupied buildings and public spaces.


Greater autonomy
Assisted by OSCE monitors from Russia, the EU, US and Kiev committed to a process of constitutional reform to grant greater autonomy to Ukraine’s regional governments.

Mr Kerry welcomed the plan as a first step to avoid “a complete and total implosion” in Ukraine but said its success “depends obviously on the good faith of parties in following through”.

“We’re going to watch that very, very closely,” he told a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Mr Kerry said Mr Lavrov had indicated Moscow would withdraw troops as the constitutional consultation process progressed – but that this was not a formal part of yesterday’s agreement.

“Assuming this can de-escalate, and it does de-escalate,” he said, “they [Russia] are absolutely prepared to begin to respond with respect to troops in larger numbers.”

Switching his tone from conciliatory to challenging, Mr Kerry warned that further sanctions against Russia would follow if the promises were not followed through.

The onus for de-escalation, he said, lay on those who had organised, equipped, and supported the groups protesting against Kiev.