Moscow claims Ukraine talks ‘substantive’ but no deal done

Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to continue discussions on Sunday

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian president Vladimir Putin (C) and French president Francois Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukraine crisis at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian president Vladimir Putin (C) and French president Francois Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukraine crisis at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

 

Talks in Moscow between the Russian, French and German leaders ended last night without an agreement on how to prevent an escalation of the Ukraine conflict but were described by a Kremlin spokesman as “substantive and meaningful”.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Francois Hollande, the president of France, had embarked on the high-stakes peace mission to Moscow amid growing concern in Europe that the US was preparing to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to help resist pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country. German officials have warned that such a move by the US would only add flames to the conflict that has already claimed more than 5,000 lives.

After arriving in Moscow yesterday evening Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande were whisked to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s residence in the Kremlin for behind-closed-doors negotiations that lasted for five hours.

The talks wound up just before midnight in Moscow and the three leaders agreed to continue to work towards a joint document implementing the ceasefire deal brokered in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, last September. That agreement has collapsed amid renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The three leaders were expected to continue talks by telephone tomorrow, said Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Mr Putin, who held a meeting of the Russian Security Council on Thursday to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, appeared relaxed during a brief photoshoot with Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande in the Kremlin yesterday.

Russian political commentators said he saw no need to compromise on Ukraine. “Russia’s position is that we are stronger than Ukraine and can dictate terms to Kiev,” said Nikolai Svanidze, a Russian historian and journalist, told told the Echo Moskvy radio station. The Kremlin did not believe that Nato would risk going to warn with a major nuclear power like Russia, he added.

No guarantee

Before leaving for Moscow, Ms Merkel warned there was no guarantee that talks with Mr Putin would yield positive results. “We don’t know if we’ll be successful today or if further talks will be necessary, if the discussions in Moscow will be long or short and if these are the last talks,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Underscoring differences in the US and European positions on Ukraine, US vice president Joe Biden yesterday called for the West to close ranks against Russian aggression. “This is a moment where the United States and Europe must stand together, stand firm,” he told reporters in Brussels. “Russia cannot be allowed to redraw the map of Europe because that’s exactly what they are doing.”

Mr Svanidze said any compromise by Putin in talks with the Europeans would be interpreted as a sign of weakness by ordinary Russians and could undermine the president’s high popularity ratings. At the same Putin knows that western economic sanctions weighing on the Russian economy will erode living standards raising questions about the high price of Kremlin policy in Ukraine.