Poroshenko seeks ‘exit strategy’ with Putin

Ukraine leader conducts talks with Russian counterpart in Belarus

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko shake hands during a summit of Eurasian world leaders in Minsk, Belarus, yesterday. Photograph: Sergei Bondarenko

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko shake hands during a summit of Eurasian world leaders in Minsk, Belarus, yesterday. Photograph: Sergei Bondarenko

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 06:23

Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko has pledged to be flexible in seeking an “exit strategy” from his country’s conflict and its crisis in relations with Russia, as he met Kremlin counterpart Vladimir Putin for talks that he said were crucial to peace in Europe.

The meeting in Belarus yesterday was not expected to yield a major breakthrough, however, as Kiev accused Russia of sending more troops and armour to help pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine and Moscow continued to deny its involvement.

After shaking hands with Mr Putin, the Belarusian and Kazakh presidents and senior European Union officials, Mr Poroshenko said the talks in Minsk could “decide the fate of peace and the fate of Europe”.

While insisting on “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine, Mr Poroshenko suggested he was open to compromise in finding a way to end fighting that has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

“I understand that all players who’ve been drawn into the situation would like to exit with dignity . . . I’m ready to discuss different options that would allow such an exit strategy – an exit to a peaceful future for Ukraine, an exit to a peaceful future for Europe,” Mr Poroshenko said.

Swift settlement

European states – led by Germany – which fear a prolonged standoff with Russia have urged Ukraine to seek a swift settlement with Moscow, and not to push Mr Putin into acting aggressively to avert the possibility of embarrassing defeat.

The Kremlin chief rejects western claims that he is aiding the militants and that they shot down a Malaysian airliner last month with a Russian missile.

He insists that Ukraine is not in conflict with Russia but is gripped by a civil war, and that its pro-Western government – called “fascist” by Russian state media – must negotiate directly with separatists who want eastern regions to be ruled by Moscow.

The Kremlin has used this tactic to back separatists in Moldova and Georgia, allowing it to deny direct involvement in these countries’ “frozen conflicts” while maintaining de-facto control over the rebel regions and hampering the affected states’ integration with the West.

Mr Putin said Ukraine’s crisis “cannot be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account vital interests of the southeastern regions of the country and without a peaceful dialogue with its representatives.”

Kiev has offered to give far more autonomy to mostly Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, but fears Moscow’s proposed “federal” model would give the Kremlin undue influence in the country’s affairs.

Retaliatory measures

Mr Putin also complained that Russia’s economy could suffer as a result of Ukraine’s closer trade ties with the EU, and threatened to take more retaliatory measures to offset the losses.

He barely mentioned the conflict, despite Kiev, the United States and Nato saying that Moscow is boosting its military support for the rebels – and shelling Ukrainian territory – as the militants come under increasing pressure from advancing government forces.

“The main condition for the stabilisation of the situation . . . is the establishment of effective control over the Russian-Ukrainian border. It is vital to do everything to stop deliveries of equipment and arms to the fighters,” Mr Poroshenko said.

Ten Russian paratroopers were captured this week by Ukrainian troops, after what Kiev’s military called the latest incursion by Russian armoured vehicles.

An unnamed source in Russia’s defence ministry told local news agencies yesterday that the soldiers were patrolling the border when they “crossed it by accident on an unmarked section”.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said he doubted Russia’s claim that “the paratroopers got lost like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest”.

On Monday, two paratroopers were buried in the Russian town of Pskov, several days after Kiev’s forces reported clashing with their unit in eastern Ukraine. No official explanation of their deaths has been given and Russian state media have said nothing about them.