RUSSIA must denounce unofficial elections in rebel-held areas of Ukraine if it is to stand any chance of seeing sanctions eased, David Cameron told Vladimir Putin in a diplomatic exchange yesterday.
The Russian president failed to offer any assurance on the issue when he was pressed by the Prime Minister, as European leaders met with Moscow and Kiev.
Downing Street sources described the exchanges with EU leaders and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko as “frank”.
Mr Putin declared his intent to avoid a “frozen conflict” in the region, they said, but had been pressed repeatedly to offer concrete examples of what the Kremlin was prepared to do.
Moscow said the talks had been “difficult and full of misunderstanding and disagreements”.
A ceasefire deal was signed in Minsk in September but more than 300 people have since been killed in continued clashes with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
Moscow denies arming the rebel forces but the EU and US have imposed economic sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea and what they see as continued support for separatists.
“Vladimir Putin said very clearly that he doesn’t want a frozen conflict; he doesn’t want a divided Ukraine,” Mr Cameron said after the talks ahead of the Asia Europe meeting. in Milan.
“But if that is the case then Russia needs to take the action to put in place all that has been agreed – getting Russian troops out of Ukraine, getting heavy weapons out of Ukraine, respecting all the agreements and only recognising one legitimate set of Ukrainian elections.
“If those things don’t happen then the European Union, Britain included, must keep in place the sanctions and the pressure so that we don’t have this kind of conflict in our continent.”
French president Francois Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman van Rompuy were part of the latest peace push - which also focused on a gas dispute which has raised fears of energy supplies to Europe being affected.
Official parliamentary elections in Ukraine have been called for 26 October, with local polls - including in disputed areas - for 7 December, but rebels have declared their own vote on 2 November.
A Downing Street source said: “It was a pretty frank meeting. On the one hand, there are signs that Putin doesn’t want a frozen conflict, but I think we remain cautious that we see that progress on the ground.”
Mr Putin “wouldn’t commit” to denouncing the rival polls.
“Clearly, those are not in line with Ukrainian law and we all need to be clear that we’ll denounce them and won’t recognise them,” said the No10 spokesman.