Hollande, Merkel, Putin, Poroshenko urge 'strict respect' of Ukraine truce
The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine called Friday for a "strict respect of engagements" pledged in a peace deal to end the Ukraine crisis, the French presidency said of the first four-way talks in more than two months.
Sources in Kiev said the conversation between Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko -- the first since April 30 -- lasted for more than two hours and focused on finally halting the 15-month separatist crisis in the former Soviet state.
The warring sides had struck a ceasefire deal in February but Poroshenko on Friday complained about pro-Russian insurgents' refusal to honour the five-month truce.
Poroshenko "expressed concern about the continuing escalation (of violence) in eastern Ukraine and called for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the Ukrainian president's website said in reference to a Belarussian capital where the peace deal was done.
"Petro Poroshenko stressed that Ukraine, unlike the other side, was abiding by the Minsk agreements."
A separate statement said Poroshenko had delivered a similar message to US Vice President Joe Biden in another phone call.
The Kremlin said Putin had in turn underscored the severity of the humanitarian crisis gripping the two separatist regions in industrial war zone.
Putin's office blamed the hardships in the heavily-Russified Lugansk and Donetsk provinces on the "virtual (economic) blockade" imposed by Kiev.
The Russian leader also repeated his call for Poroshenko to launch direct negotiations with the heads of the two self-declared republics -- something the Westren-backed leader has refused to do.
The telephone exchange came a day after Ukraine's parliament took the first step toward granting temporary self-rule to pro-Russian rebels under a change to the constitution the West hopes can end a war that has already claimed more than 6,500 lives.
The idea of granting autonomous status to the rebels for the coming three years has struck a note of disquiet among many lawmakers and much of the Kiev media.
But it was inscribed in the Minsk deal and grudgingly accepted by Poroshenko -- a former chocolate baron who won May 2014 presidential elections on a promise to stamp out the rebellion within a matter of days.
Kiev lawmakers on Thursday voted by a commanding 288-57 majority to ask Ukraine's constitutional court to rule whether such changes to the basic law were legal.
The official request triggers the start of a process that should see Kiev cede some of its powers to all regions -- and assign especially broad ones to pro-Russian lands -- in the weeks or months to come.
But Moscow on Friday dismissed the proposed changes as insufficient because they had been introduced without prior consultation with the rebel command.
"The attempt to present the constitutional amendments... as some kind of fulfilment by Kiev of its Minsk obligations is just an imitation and should not fool anybody," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Paris said Hollande praised Poroshenko's constitutional proposals as a positive first step that should lead to the staging of local elections in rebel-run regions later this year.
"Local elections held under Ukrainian law and with respect for the corresponding commitments will be an important milestone," the French president's office said.
The Minsk deal calls for the entire peace process -- including full disarmament and the return of Kiev's control over its Russian border -- should be competed by the end of the year.
Poroshenko's office said the four leaders had agreed to conduct another teleconference next week.
© 2015 AFP