A Kremlin aide has made upbeat remarks after talking with the new U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, saying they discussed "fresh ideas" in a "constructive" meeting.
U.S. envoy Kurt Volker met with Vladislav Surkov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's point man for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, behind closed doors in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on August 21.
"The meeting was useful and constructive," Surkov told Russian reporters afterward. "The two sides proposed fresh ideas and novel approaches" for implementing the February 2015 Minsk agreement.
The deal set out steps to end the war and resolve the status of the portion of the Donbas region held by Russia-backed separatists, but progress toward implementation has been very slow.
"We agreed that the peace process on the political track, as well as in the sphere of security, can and should go faster" and that the current situation in Ukraine is unacceptable, Surkov said.
Volker did not comment after the meeting.
Volker's talks with Surkov kicked off three days of U.S. diplomacy on the war between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.
From Minsk, Volker heads to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, to meet with senior government officials on August 22 to discuss "the way forward in Ukraine," the State Department said.
On August 23, Volker will join U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in meetings with senior Ukrainian government officials to discuss "the next steps in diplomatic negotiations to restore Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the department said.
After Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in February 2014 by massive pro-European protests, Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region and fomented separatism in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The Russia-backed separatists seized parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which border Russia, and the war has persisted despite the Minsk agreement and several cease-fire deals.
Sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and other countries have not prompted Russia to abandon its support for the separatists or fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson named Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations in early July.
In an interview with Current Time TV later in July, Volker said that ending the fighting will require agreement by all sides on two major principles -- the "territorial integrity of Ukraine, security of all the people" -- and a change in Russia's approach. Current Time TV is the Russian-language network, run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
He said that the United States is considering sending Kyiv weapons to help government forces defend themselves against Russia-backed separatists. To date, the United States has provided only nonlethal military aid.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been driven to a post-Cold War low by disagreements over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine, its role in the war in Syria, and its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
With reporting by Reuters and Interfax