Fresh Ukraine summit aims to halt bloodshed

The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine aim to hold a summit in Minsk this week as they try to stem fighting in eastern Ukraine, officials said 
People clear a street near a destroyed van after shelling in Donetsk yesterday. Picture: AFP/GettyPeople clear a street near a destroyed van after shelling in Donetsk yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
People clear a street near a destroyed van after shelling in Donetsk yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty

The plan for a meeting on Wednesday in the Belarusian capital emerged from a phone call between German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Ms Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, described the call as “intensive”.

The aim is to draw up a package of measures that breathes new life into a much-violated September peace plan. Mr Seibert and the French government said preparations for the summit will take place today in Berlin, without elaborating.

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“They (the leaders) expect that their efforts during the Minsk meeting will lead to the swift and unconditional cessation of fire by both sides,” Mr Poroshenko’s office said in a statement.

Mr Putin also confirmed that a summit was being planned for Wednesday in Minsk, but said it might not come about.

“We will be aiming for Wednesday, if by that time we are able to agree on a number of the positions that we recently have been discussing intensely,” he told journalists in Sochi during a meeting with the president of Belarus, Russian news agencies reported.

A separate meeting between the signatories to last September’s accord, including Russia, Ukraine and representatives of separatists in eastern Ukraine, will also take place in Minsk by Wednesday, Mr Seibert said.

Before the summit, Ms Merkel, who met Mr Putin on Friday night in Moscow, is scheduled to meet president Barack Obama in Washington today on a previously scheduled trip.

At an international security conference in Munich, US secretary of state John Kerry said the US and its European allies are “united in our diplomacy” on Ukraine. He said the US supports efforts by France and Germany to produce a new plan to end the conflict that is now raging in east Ukraine.

Mr Kerry denied that there is a US-Europe rift over how to respond to the crisis and how to deal with Russia’s role in it despite a debate over whether to arm the government in Kiev.

“There is no division, there is no split,” Mr Kerry said. “I keep hearing people trying to create one. We are united, we are working closely together.”

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His comments came amid reports of a major transatlantic rift over the Obama administration’s consideration of providing defensive weaponry to Kiev. Germany and France oppose such a move, saying it could lead to an escalation and that they do not believe the conflict can be resolved militarily.

Russia, which is accused of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, has said the introduction of US-supplied weaponry will have grave consequences. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking alongside Mr Kerry, reiterated that he considers delivering weapons “not just highly risky but counterproductive”.

Mr Kerry said the US agrees there is no military solution to the Ukraine crisis that has now killed more than 5,300 people, according to the United Nations.