Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Russia and Germany agree on special status for Donbas, Kremlin says

President Vladimir Putin and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said agreeing the eastern region’s status would pave the way for a four-way peace summit later this year, the Kremlin said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the Day of the Employers conference in Berlin. EPA
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the Day of the Employers conference in Berlin. EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that Ukraine should give its breakaway Donbas region special status set out in Ukrainian law and pave the way for an international summit to bring the conflict to a close.

According to a readout published by the Kremlin, the two leaders again voiced support for a ceasefire agreed by Russian, Ukrainian and EU officials in the capital of Belarus in 2015 but which has never fully been implemented. The Kremlin also said the leaders “stressed the need to formalise the special status of Donbas in Ukrainian law.”

The Kremlin didn’t give further details of their discussion about Donbas, but said that reaching an agreement on the issue would help pave the way to holding a summit aimed at finding a resolution to the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that the first roundtable negotiations in three years including Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France is likely to take place in the coming weeks. "I think that the summit would take place... I think this year," Mr Ushakov said.

Ties between Moscow and Kiev plummeted after a series of violent street protests beginning 2013 lead to the ouster of the Kremlin-friendly leader of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Russia lent support to separatist fighters in breakaway republics in the east of Ukraine, as part of a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014.

Moscow’s decision to annex the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea from Ukraine sparked widespread condemnation from leaders across the world and the West hit back with a raft of economic sanctions against Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no prior political experience, was voted to office in April this year on a mandate to end the conflict. In September this year, the two sides reached a major breakthrough with a prisoner swap that included dozens of high-profile detainees.

As part of the preparations for the summit, Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists began withdrawing from a village in the disputed Donbas region on Saturday. Kiev said that having withdrawn its troops from the village of Petrivske meant it had fulfilled its obligations for the peace summit to take place.

Meanwhile, the former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has announced he is trying to broker-face-to face talks between Mr Putin and the new Ukranian president. Speaking at a conference on international politics in the capital of Kazakhstan, said he had spoken with the Russian leader the previous day and was willing to host the meeting in the Central Asian country.

"Zelenskiy has already agreed to a tete-a-tete, and [I have] informed the president of Russia about that. We shall see now [if Mr Putin agrees]," Mr Nazarbayev said on Tuesday.

The Kremlin’s spokesperson said in response that Russia wants a “reanimation” in relations, but that this would be impossible without Kiev.

"Clearly, Putin ...never refuses such meetings, but he believes that meeting for the sake of meeting serves little purpose, it must be well prepared," Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.

Updated: November 12, 2019 06:58 PM

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