Onus on Russia to end Ukraine war, says US secretary of state

Rex Tillerson in talks in Kiev as Donald Trump calls for co-operation with Moscow

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson greet each other in Kiev on July 9th, 2017. Photograph: Sergei SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has put the onus on Russia to end the war in eastern Ukraine and backed the continuation of western sanctions on Moscow, even as President Donald Trump called again for a rapprochement with the Kremlin.

“I’ve been very clear in my discussions with the Russian leadership on more than one occasion, that it is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalating the situation in the east part of Ukraine,” Mr Tillerson said in Kiev on Sunday.

He urged Russia to “honour its commitments” under the failing 2015 Minsk peace accord, to “exercise influence over the separatists in [eastern Ukraine], which they do hold complete control over” and “to immediately call on their proxies to cease the violence”.

"It is important to be very clear what our goals are with respect to the situation here. First and foremost to restore Ukraine's territorial sovereignty and integrity," Mr Tillerson said alongside Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.


“The US and EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions.”

The West imposed economic sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea and fomented an armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in spring 2014, in the wake of pro-democracy protests that ousted pro-Moscow politicians from power in Kiev.

Donbas conflict

The continuing war in the industrial Donbas region has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced about 1.7 million, and dealt a heavy blow to Ukraine as it tries to break with Russia and integrate with the European Union.

Kiev and its European allies have been alarmed by Mr Trump’s determination to improve relations with the Kremlin, despite its role in Ukraine and alleged meddling in last year’s US presidential election campaign.

Mr Trump held brief talks with Mr Poroshenko in Washington last month, but spent far more time with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg last Friday. Amid reports that they met for more than two hours, Mr Tillerson said "neither one of them wanted to stop" talking.

Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had “strongly pressed” Mr Putin about Russian interference in the US election and had discussed with him the possibility of creating “an impenetrable cyber security unit”.

“Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!” he wrote.

Minsk deal

"We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!" another tweet read.

Mr Tillerson recently suggested that Kiev and Moscow might achieve a peace agreement outside the framework of the Minsk deal, and he travelled to Ukraine with the new US special envoy to the country, Kurt Volker.

His appointment suggests Washington wants to play a bigger role in efforts to resolve the conflict in Donbas, which until now have centred on the so-called Normandy format of talks involving Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

Mr Poroshenko called Mr Tillerson’s visit a “powerful signal of support” for Ukraine and said his guest had briefed him on the talks that took place in Hamburg.

“Kiev did not plan, did not start this war,” he added. “It was planned and started in Moscow. That’s why the keys to a peaceful settlement are in Moscow.”

Despite the well-documented presence of its troops and armour in eastern Ukraine, Russia insists it is not directly involved in the conflict.

Mr Putin said on Saturday that he was sure the interests of Ukrainians and Russians “coincide fully” and that only the “Russophobic” attitude of Kiev’s leaders had put the neighbours at odds.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe