Vladimir Putin had a meeting in Milan yesterday with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, although the meeting offered no breakthrough. Putin and Poroshenko were joined by some EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Although both sides suggested that progress was made, the talks were challenging. European leaders said afterwards that Putin and Russia still had a lot to do on their end to strengthen an existing ceasefire, and to aim for an eventual end to the fighting in Ukraine. The conflict has resulted in an estimated 3,600 casualties since fighting began in April.
Putin’s third meeting with Poroshenko since the Ukrainian president was elected in May offered no major breakthroughs. Putin still maintains that Russia is not involved with the conflict in Ukraine. This is a position that Western leaders simply cannot accept, and they feel that the tensions between Russia and the West, which are stronger than they have been at any time since the end of the Cold War, will not ease while Putin continues to claim that there is no Russian involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Ukraine and the Western allies argue that, while not owning up to it, Russia has nonetheless consistently added fuel to the fire in the conflict not only by beefing up troop presence along the Ukrainian border, and also by sending troops and weapons across the border into Ukraine. EU members are also worried because a crease-fire that the two sides reached in Minsk, Belarus, last month has been repeatedly violated. Putin emphasized that while the cease-fire agreement offered a guide to a settlement, both sides were guilty of not abiding by the terms of the Minsk memorandum.
One thing that Putin believes would help resolve the conflict would be a more solid line of separation between territories held by Ukrainian forces and those territories held by the rebels. That would, in effect, create a pro-Russian separatist enclave within Ukrainian borders. Ukrainian forces have begun to enforce checkpoints along the borders of areas held by the rebels, according to witnesses. Once this border is established, Putin says, the attacks by both sides could be brought to a halt, and the deaths of innocent people could finally end.
The two sides continue to disagree on the conflict in Ukraine, although there were some issues that came closer to being resolved. Specifically, they reached the outline of a deal on a dispute over gas between the two countries. The deal that they reached could re-open the gas lines to Ukraine that Russia shut off in June. This is important to nations in other parts of Europe that get their gas from Russia, because the gas travels through Ukraine. Russia stated that the reason for cutting off Ukraine’s gas supply was its failure to pay debts. Putin said that the deal was effective at least through the coming winter, although he made no commitment beyond that. His main concern centered on the question of how the government in Kiev would pay off the estimated $4.5 billion that it presently owes to Russia. He urged other European nations to assist Ukraine in being able to pay off its debts.
While Putin’s meeting with Poroshenko really offered no breakthrough, there were some issues that the two sides came closer to resolving. While the gas issue was the biggest, it was not the only one. Poroshenko announced that the two sides also found common ground in their belief that the cease-fire memorandum reached in Minsk last month should be more firmly implemented, and also that elections should be permitted in Donetsk and Luhansk.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Monika Flueckiger – Flickr