Saturday 21 October 2017

US, Russia in first talks since crisis

UN official forced to leave Crimea after he is attacked by pro-Russian gang

Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye
Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye
A uniformed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands on guard outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye
Pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in front of City Hall in Zaporizhzhya
An armed man, believed to be a Russian serviceman, sits atop of an armoured personnel carrier
Local residents and armed men believed to be Russian servicemen walk in front of the gates of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye

Bruno Waterfield in Brussels and Barney Henderson in London

Russia and America held their first direct talks since the start of the Ukraine crisis last night, raising hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough in the worst breach in relations between East and West since the end of the Cold War.

Though progress was limited, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, met his counterparts from the United States, France, Germany and Britain in Paris and said further discussions on Ukraine would take place "in days to come".

"We are all concerned at what it is happening there," he said as he left the French foreign ministry.

Despite the diplomatic flurry, tensions also remain high in Crimea, where gunmen seized part of a Ukrainian missile facility in Cape Fiolent near Sebastopol, Ukrainian officials said.

A senior United Nations envoy was forced to cut short his mission and decided to leave the country after being "threatened" by a gang of armed men shouting "Crimea is Russian! Putin! Putin!".

Robert Serry was accosted by gunmen outside the naval headquarters in Simferopol. He was then blocked from returning to his car and took refuge in a nearby cafe that was surrounded by a mob. He was later allowed to his hotel on condition that he left Crimea. He soon left for the airport.

Speaking in California yesterday, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mince her words when she compared Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions on the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

She was speaking during a fundraising luncheon.

Mr Putin has argued that ethnic Russians in Ukraine need to be protected. Mrs Clinton said that's what Hitler did when he contended that ethnic Germans outside Germany in places such as Czechoslovakia and Romania were not being treated right and needed to be protected.

The volatile situation in eastern Ukraine showed little sign of easing as a dozen people were hurt when pro-Russian protesters took back the regional government building in the city of Donetsk. Earlier in the day pro-Western Ukrainians had replanted the national flag on the rooftop.

The West continued its strategy of combining support for the new government in Kiev with pressure on Russia, whose troops two weeks ago secured major installations in Crimea.

Nato suspended most of the military alliance's meetings with Russia and announced a review of all of its co-operation with Moscow, while an advance team of 35 observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including British and US military advisers, was sent to Kiev.

The OSCE has been discussing a large monitoring mission, including Crimea, which would send in observers in hundreds rather than dozens.

The OSCE monitoring mission could oversee and verify Russia's withdrawal back to their bases in a way that is palatable for Russia, providing the "de-escalation" and "exit ramp" that Western powers are seeking for the Russians to avoid sanctions.

In response to EU sanction threats, the Russian parliament has begun drafting legislation that would allow the authorities in Russia to confiscate assets belonging to American and European companies in retaliation.

The European Union revamped an aid package worth at least €11bn to support Ukraine's new fragile pro-EU government.

The package could be signed at an emergency EU leaders' meeting in Brussels today, which will be attended by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the pro-western prime minister of Ukraine.

Up to £2.5bn will be made available to Ukraine when Kiev signs an imminent deal with the International Monetary Fund and other loans will follow from European investment funds over the next seven years.

The overall value of EU package, which matches Russia's offer to Ukraine last year in return for Kiev not signing a European trade deal, comes after Washington announced it would make available $1bn (€730m) in loan guarantees to Ukraine and offered technical assistance in a number of areas.

Meanwhile, the US Treasury announced it would join other EU countries in freezing the assets of 18 Ukrainians suspected of misappropriating state funds, in line with an agreement reached by the EU earlier in the day.

Those individuals are thought to include Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's fugitive, pro-Russian ex-president. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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