World waits for Putin response on Ukraine ceasefire deal
Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko to hold vital round of phone talks today
Vladimir Putin is expected to give his response today to the Franco-German plan for a Ukrainian ceasefire, enforced with the creation of a demilitarised zone along the frontlines.
The plan, according to the French president, Francois Hollande, proposes a buffer zone of 50km to 70km and requires Russian-backed separatists to withdraw to ceasefire lines that were agreed in Minsk in September. In return, the eastern provinces would be given greater autonomy.
Angela Merkel, who travelled with Hollande to Moscow on Friday evening to set out their proposal, was downbeat about its prospects yesterday. The German chancellor told the annual Munich Security Conference: "It is uncertain whether it will lead to success but, from my point of view and that of the French president, it is definitely worth trying."
She conceded that it was "disappointing" that Russia had failed to abide by the Minsk agreement. On Russian guarantees, she admitted "the experience has not been good" but added: "The answer to this can't be not to enter any agreements at all. Of course, we have to try again and again."
Also speaking at Munich, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped the latest diplomatic drive would "produce results, and those results will be supported by the parties to this conflict".
Hollande and Merkel are expected to speak by video link today to Putin as well as to Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in what Hollande portrayed as a last-ditch bid to contain the conflict, in which 5,300 people have so far died. "If we don't manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, it's called war," he told reporters.
In a highly charged appeal to an audience of senior European and American officials in Munich, Poroshenko said: "We need simple things. We need a ceasefire. Can you imagine that anyone in the 21st century can be against a ceasefire? We should have an answer in just a few hours and, if not, then days."
The conference revealed the deep and widening divide between the West and Russia, with the audience openly laughing at claims by Lavrov and other Russian officials that Moscow had no troops in the Ukrainian conflict.
However, the conference also highlighted an emerging rift on how to respond if the peace initiative fails and fighting escalates. It pits eastern European nations and increasingly vocal members of the US Congress, who want to send arms to the Ukrainian government, against western European states who are against such a move. In the middle is the Obama administration, which says it has not made up its mind.
Speaking in Munich, Vice-President Joseph Biden maintained the ambiguity of the White House position. "We will continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine," he said. "We believe in an honourable peace. We also believe that Ukrainians have the right to defend themselves."
The US has previously agreed to provide non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, but according to its own accounting, reported by the Bloomberg news agency, only half of the $118m of American equipment has so far been delivered. Among the items not yet delivered are armoured trucks and other vehicles, medical supplies, binoculars, sleeping bags and tents.
In his Munich speech, Poroshenko derided Russian denials of military involvement in his country, brandishing the passports and identity cards that he said belonged to Russian soldiers killed or captured while fighting in Ukraine.