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Ukraine, Russia Views 'Far Apart,' As Berlin Hosts Peace Talks


Ukrainian servicemen fire a howitzer close to the front line near the village of Novoluhanske in the Donetsk region earlier this year.
Ukrainian servicemen fire a howitzer close to the front line near the village of Novoluhanske in the Donetsk region earlier this year.

The German, French, Russian, and Ukrainian foreign ministers were meeting in Berlin late on June 11 for talks on bringing an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The meeting -- the first of the "Normandy" group in more than a year -- focused on implementing an unfulfilled peace agreement reached in 2015 and the possibility of deploying a UN peacekeeping mission in the conflict zone.

More than 10,300 people have been killed in fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Ahead of meeting in the German capital, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that bringing UN peacekeepers to the region would be an “appropriate measure” to make sure the accord signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, “can finally be implemented with the help of the United Nations."

But in an interview with the Bild newspaper, Germany's top diplomat said he expected the revival of talks to be "difficult."

"Ukraine and Russia's interests and views lie far apart in many areas," said Maas.

All sides back a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, but they disagree on its mandate.

Germany and France want UN troops to be deployed in all areas controlled by Russia-backed rebels, including on the Ukraine-Russia border. Russia opposes this idea.

The UN Security Council adopted a statement on June 6 encouraging all parties in Ukraine to recommit to a 2015 peace deal and expressing “grave concern” at deteriorating security in eastern Ukraine.

All 15 Security Council members, including Russia, agreed on the presidential statement, which was an initiative of France and Germany. It was the first pronouncement by the UN Security Council on Ukraine since January 2017.

France's UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said Russia's agreement "is one of the reasons why the presidential statement is important...and, of course, it makes a world of difference."

The 2015 peace agreement has helped reduce hostilities, but UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on May 29 that "the relative calm that held in the early weeks of 2018 was followed in April and May by a sharp increase in the number of victims."

"The security situation on the ground remains volatile," she said. "The killing, destruction, and immense suffering continues" and "eastern Ukraine is facing a serious humanitarian crisis."

The civilian death toll in the conflict has now exceeded 2,700, with as many as 9,000 injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

An estimated 1.6 million people remain internally displaced – the largest uprooted population in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.

Over half a million civilians live within 5 kilometers of the 457-kilometer line that divides the opposing forces in eastern Ukraine, subjected to shelling, gunfire, land mines, and unexploded ordnance.

“The area around the Line of Contact is now the third most mine-contaminated area in the world,” DiCarlo said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and DW

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