“The first and foremost condition is that everything is done to make the ceasefire agreement a reality. The task at hand means that what we agreed in Minsk has to be respected,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday, referring to the February peace plan based on an OSCE-brokered agreement between Kiev and self-proclaimed rebel republics in eastern Ukraine.
Merkel insisted that the Berlin meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande had been called to help “implement the Minsk deal, not to call it into question.”
The German leader said that Poroshenko has assured her of Kiev’s commitment to withdrawing weaponry from the front line of the conflict – and a readiness to pull back weapons under 100mm in caliber. While the withdrawal of lighter weaponry was not outlined in the Minsk deal, eastern Ukrainian rebel forces unilaterally pulled back arms of less than 100mm caliber at the end of July, saying it was an act of good will in the hope that Kiev would follow suit.
According to Merkel, a broader arms withdrawal was recently discussed in a telephone conversation between the leaders of the ‘Normandy Four’ – France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
Both Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have been blaming each other for frequent ceasefire violations, including the use of heavy weaponry that they had agreed to pull back under the Minsk Protocol. The OSCE monitoring mission has confirmed that both sides have violated the agreement. Shelling continues to hit parts of the densely populated city of Donetsk: in July, one person was killed and several others injured as Ukrainian forces shelled residential blocks and a city hospital. Overall, the conflict has claimed more than 6,700 lives since Kiev sent in the army in April of 2014 for what it called an “anti-terrorist operation.”
Poroshenko ‘sought backing for all-out war’?
However, it is the recent statements by Poroshenko that have been interpreted as signs of the imminent resumption of all-out war in the rebel-controlled areas. On Saturday, the Ukrainian leader bluntly stated that “the Minsk agreement despite all criticism has given us time to build up Ukraine’s defense,” adding that “the times of airheaded pacifism and shortsighted rejection of security issues are forever in the past now.”
With Poroshenko’s remarks coming on the eve of his meeting with Merkel and Hollande, Moscow reacted by saying it hoped that the European leaders would put pressure on Kiev to stick to the Minsk agreements. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Merkel and Hollande, who signed the Minsk deal as guarantors, will have to save their own reputations and make sure that Ukraine does everything it has pledged to do to achieve peace.