Ukraine pledges to step up Donbas peace efforts

Ukraine pledges to step up Donbas peace efforts
President Petro Poroshenko reviews the military parade in central Kyiv on August 24.
By bne IntelliNews August 25, 2016

Ukraine will step up efforts with its foreign partners to bring peace to its war-torn eastern regions, President Petro Poroshenko pledged on August 24 as the country marked 25 years of independence. But he also called for the West to take a tougher stance against Russia, following the announcement that the French and German leaders will meet separately with President Vladimir Putin next month to discuss Ukraine.

Kyiv will reinvigorate the so-called Normandy format of the peace talks, which includes France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, to bring an end to the two-year armed conflict in the Donbas region that has claimed almost 10,000 lives.

"The Normandy format will be resurrected in the near future," Poroshenko told a meeting of Ukrainian diplomats, while reiterating Kyiv's position that Russia is fomenting the conflict. "It's necessary to maintain and reinforce the sanctions against Russia until the complete cessation of aggression," he added.

Poroshenko also urged the diplomats to ensure "international political-legal recognition and condemnation of Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea, [and] massive human rights violations in Donbas and Crimea".

The comments came on the 25th anniversary of Ukraine's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, which was marked by ceremonies across the country. "Ukraine is 25! This is just the beginning!" Poroshenko wrote on Twitter. "Independence is the achievement that whole generations have struggled for. I believe in our victory!" Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman added as Kyiv and other cities hosted festivities.

A military parade in Kyiv underscored the continuing bloodshed in the east, which Poroshenko said had claimed the lives of 2,504 Ukrainian soldiers since the beginning of 2014. Around three times more civilians are believed to have died in the fighting, which has increased in recent weeks. In the 24 hours before the parade, pro-Russian separatist forces attacked Ukrainian army positions in the Donbas 48 times, according to the military command.

"Our parade is a signal to our enemy as well. Ukrainians are ready to keep fighting hard for their independence," Poroshenko told crowds in central Kyiv in a speech heavy with anti-Russian sentiment. "Therefore, the aggressor would do well to remember the wise advice of Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: "Comrade Moscovite, do not make fun of Ukraine!"

Meanwhile, despite the mediation of Western leaders, observers note scant progress achieved through the Normandy format in recent months due to the entrenched stances of Kyiv and Moscow about the conflict and its resolution. 

Ukrainian authorities say lack of security in Donbas prevents holding local elections in areas controlled by separatists, which is a key demand of the new Minsk peace agreement reached in February 2015. Russia, which Ukraine and the West say is supplying weapons and military personnel to the rebels, insists on holding the elections as the first step to ending the fighting.

On August 23, the Kremlin published a statement saying Putin will hold talks on the conflict with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande at the G-20 summit in China on September 4-5. The three leaders agreed to meet on the sidelines of the summit after phone talks on "prospects for the continuation" of the Minsk accords, the statement said. This contrasted with earlier stated reticence by the Russian leader to discuss Ukraine in China, which analysts saw as a bid to strengthen his hand before talks about this and other key issues.

"When Putin said he did not want to speak about Ukraine at G-20, what he really meant was that he really did want to speak about Ukraine," commented Nomura International strategist Timothy Ash. "Notable for its absence at this meeting though is the US - Putin so desperately wants to get some 'quality time' in a one-on-one with [the US President Barack] Obama, to sort world problems out."

Striking an upbeat note on Ukraine's economy, which is now expanding at its fastest rate since 2013, Poroshenko said during his speech that the Ukraine-EU association agreement is already working and "gradually compensating" the great losses inflicted by Russia's actions.

"Moscow tries to strangle us both by closing its market, and blocking transit to other countries. Against the background of unprecedented external shocks, we achieved macroeconomic stabilisation and restored economic growth," he said.