Fresh French-German push for Ukraine rebel polls flounders
A fresh European push to resolve one of its bloodiest crises in decades floundered when Ukraine and Russia said Friday they could not agree on polls in areas under the control of pro-Moscow separatists.
France and Germany held a new round of talks with Ukraine and Russia in Paris on Thursday as part of mediation efforts to try to end the 23-month war in the east of the former Soviet republic.
The fighting has killed nearly 9,200 people since April 2014 and raised alarm across eastern European states about what they see as Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive foreign policy stance.
But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the proposals discussed in Paris failed to address Kiev's security concerns or the alleged -- and repeatedly denied -- presence of active Russian forces in the war zone.
"No agreements were reached," Klimkin tweeted early Friday.
"It was a very difficult meeting," he separately told reporters in Paris.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also confirmed that "no consensus" was reached at for elections in separatist regions to be held by the end of June.
Berlin and Paris argue that the crisis could finally be settled if the rebel-run regions hold Western-monitored polls that may be recognised as valid by Kiev.
- 'Security first' -
But Ukraine insists it cannot accept such elections until a lasting and fully-verifiable ceasefire is established first.
"Our position -- security first," Klimkin wrote on Twitter.
Kiev has also expressed fears that Russia -- already having annexed Crimea in 2014 -- may try to unsettle the country further by exerting influence over the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk within a reunified Ukraine.
A rebel vote also threatens to unleash a popular backlash against President Petro Poroshenko at a critical stage, with the parliamentary coalition that ousted Ukraine's Moscow-backed leadership in February 2014 now breaking at the seams.
The resulting stalemate appears to be undermining EU efforts to return calm to the outer edge of the 28-nation bloc's eastern frontier and focus on new concerns such as the migrant crisis and the possibility of Britain leaving the union.
- Kiev blamed -
"We underlined the importance of adopting an electoral law to hold local elections by the end of the first half of 2016," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after the four-way meeting in Paris.
He also called for the release and exchange of all prisoners and people held in "illegal detention" by the end of April.
But Klimkin's subsequent comments showed that Ukraine was not ready for the vote.
And his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier did little to hide his frustration over how the talks went.
"I am not satisfied by the way in which Kiev and Moscow have been leading these negotiations," he told reporters.
Steinmeier had first floated the idea of the insurgents conducting their own elections in the coming months at a UN Security Council meeting on Monday.
Both Moscow and a top separatist negotiator blamed the failure to achieve progress on Kiev.
Lavrov said Ukraine was the only side at the meeting to reject the idea of setting a firm deadline for elections in rebel-run parts of the east.
"We were ready to support it but the Ukrainian side requested that it not be insisted upon," Lavrov said in comments posted on the Russian foreign ministry website on Friday.
And Donetsk separatist negotiator Denis Pushilin described Kiev as the main stumbling block to a settlement.
Klimkin in turn said Russia in particular "was not ready to discuss some issues in detail".
He appeared to be referring to the belief in Kiev and the West that Putin had orchestrated and backed the revolt in reprisal for Urkaine's decision to strike a landmark free trade agreement with the European Union.
Putin has denied any role in the conflict and admitted only to some off-duty or vacationing Russian soldiers fighting alongside the rebels of their own free will.
© 2016 AFP