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U.S., Russia Envoys Differ On Peace And Peacekeepers In Eastern Ukraine

Kurt Volker (right), the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, and Russian envoy Vladislav Surkov (composite file photo)

After talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, U.S. and Russian envoys say their countries have "different concepts for how to make peace" but will continue to work to achieve that goal.

"Both sides agreed to reflect on the discussions...and to think about further ways to address this challenge," said a joint statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after special envoy Kurt Volker and Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov met on November 13.

It said the meeting in Belgrade included a "thorough discussion of the current diplomatic state of play concerning efforts to end the war" between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Volker had indicated before the meeting that it would focus on the possibility of an international peacekeeping force being deployed in the parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that are held by Russia-backed separatists.

After the meeting, Surkov said that the U.S. side presented 29 paragraphs containing its proposals on a Russian plan for peacekeepers, Russian news agencies reported.

"Our delegation came to the conclusion that three of them were acceptable," Surkov said, adding that the parties decided to continue the work to bring their positions closer.

Discussions about deploying a peacekeeping force have heated up since September, when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed deploying UN peacekeepers along the line separating Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists.

The plan swiftly drew criticism from both Kyiv and the West, largely because of concerns that deployment only along the front line would cement Russian control over separatist-held territory and do nothing to stop Russia from sending fighters and weapons into Ukraine. Putin later said he was open to adjustments to his initial proposal, but no agreement has been reached.

'Discussion Of Principles'

Fighting between Kyiv government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. Several cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed to resolve the conflict -- have reduced fighting but not stopped it.

"There has always been a need for a combination of political and security measures to be taken under Minsk," the statement by Volker and Surkov said. "Both sides agreed to reflect on the discussions today and to think about further ways to address this challenge."

Ahead of the Belgrade talks, Volker said he would meet Surkov for a "discussion of principles" to see if they can agree on what a peacekeeping force might look like.

"We are not in agreement on this yet," he told reporters in Washington on November 3.

The U.S. envoy said that Washington wants the mission to monitor the entire conflict area and make sure heavy weapons are pulled back.

Volker and Surkov earlier held talks on October 7 in Belgrade and on August 21 in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

Belgrade is a neutral venue. Volker had refused to meet with Surkov in Russia, and Surkov is barred from the European Union under sanctions imposed in response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Tillerson appointed Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations in July.

Meanwhile, a top U.S. diplomat was set to visit Ukraine this week at the end of a 10-day trip to Europe.

The State Department said on November 5 that Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, will meet with senior Ukrainian officials on November 14-16 to "reaffirm the United States' commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and encourage Ukraine to continue implementing critical reforms."

A statement said that Mitchell will also meet business and civic leaders to discuss Ukrainian efforts to transform the country into a “prosperous, secure, and democratic European state.”

With reporting by TASS and Interfax
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