France and Germany are seeking the resumption of stalled peace talks for the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Western nations’ foreign ministers say.
Germany’s Heiko Maas and France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian made the comments on May 30 after what they called an “exceptionally good discussion” in Kyiv with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
France and Germany have been the key forces behind the so-called Minsk peace process, bringing in Ukraine and Russia for talks aimed at ending the war with Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.
Since April 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in fighting between Kyiv's forces and the separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords in September 2014 and February 2015 have contributed to a decrease in fighting but have failed to hold.
"We are going to take advantage of the moment to relaunch the Minsk peace process...because for the moment we are in an impasse and that is unacceptable," Maas said.
"We are going to continue to try and make peace possible in this country, in the east of Ukraine. After these talks, I am certain it is possible," he said, adding that Zelenskiy had said peace was the "absolute priority."
Maas and Le Drian in a joint statement called on Moscow to display "the political will and responsibility to restore an atmosphere of confidence [with the Ukrainian government] rather than stoke tensions.”
"Some gestures are expected from Russia, particularly the release of 24 sailors held illegally," they added, referring to the seizure and detention by Russia of Ukrainian sailors off Crimea in 2018.
Western leaders have demanded that Russia release the seamen, and the incident has led to the imposition of additional sanctions on Russia.
In their joint statement, Maas and Le Drian called for the “unconditional release” of the sailors.
"We raised the issue of the…incident that occurred last November,” they said.
“We also met with the families of the sailors who have been held in Russian jail since November in breach of international law, in order to show our support for the families who are missing their loved ones,” they added.
Moscow has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting the fighting is a civil, internal conflict.
Russia also seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a move that has not been recognized by the international community and has brought a series of Western-imposed financial sanctions against Moscow.