Kyiv Seeks New Talks as Ukraine Slides Closer to War - The Jewish Voice
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Kyiv Seeks New Talks as Ukraine Slides Closer to War

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Mourners grieve at the coffin of Andriy Biryukov, a pro-Ukrainian activist killed in clashes on Friday, at his funeral in Odessa May 6, 2014
Mourners grieve at the coffin of Andriy Biryukov, a pro-Ukrainian activist killed in clashes on Friday, at his funeral in Odessa May 6, 2014
Ukraine is ready to back a new round of talks in Geneva in a bid to de-escalate a political crisis with Russia as long as Moscow supports presidential elections on May 25, Ukrainian Acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia said on Tuesday.

“If Russia is ready to commit itself to support these elections and to eliminate this threat and eliminate its support for the extremist elements in Ukraine, we are ready to have such a round of meetings,” he told a news conference after a Council of Europe meeting in Vienna on the crisis in Ukraine.

Deshchytsia said his government could support another round of Geneva talks if all the parties agreed to implement any document that would be agreed there.

“But … the priority for Ukraine is to hold the presidential elections,” Deshchytsia said.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier in Vienna it would be “unusual” to hold a presidential election in Ukraine while the government was deploying the army against some of its people.

Lavrov said opposition groups in Ukraine would have to take part in any new round of talks.

The BBC reported, however, that Lavrov had ruled out holding a new round of talks in Geneva, saying there was no point, as last month’s accord between the United States, the European Union and Russia had not been implemented.

He spoke after the Council of Europe meeting.

Elsewhere in Ukraine,Tuesday morning was quiet in eastern and southern Ukraine, but the deadliest few days since the separatist uprising began have transformed the conflict, hardening positions and leaving little room for peaceful resolution.

Both sides have been burying their dead this week as Ukraine slides further toward war, with supporters of Russia and of a united Ukraine each accusing the other side of tearing the country apart.

French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday that there will be “chaos and the risk of civil war” if the May 25 presidential vote is not held.

The next few days could prove decisive. Pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donbass region plan to hold a referendum on secession on May 11, a move similar to what preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Two days before that, on May 9, is the annual Victory Day holiday celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Moscow has been openly comparing the government in Kyiv to the Nazis, and Ukrainian officials are worried that the day could provoke violence.

Insurgents killed Monday

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Arakov said on Tuesday that 30 pro-Russian insurgents were killed during Monday’s military assault to expunge anti-government forces in the eastern town of Slovyansk.

Avakov said that four government troops also died and another 20 were injured during the gun battles.

The Associated Press reported that Ukrainian forces had taken hold of a key checkpoint north of Slovyansk on Tuesday morning, dealing a blow to insurgent lines of communication. The checkpoint had come under repeated attack since the government offensive began.

Also, in a statement published on acting President Oleksandr Turchynov’s website, Kyiv authorities announced they were firing the acting governor and replacing him with Ihor Palytsya, a member of parliament.

Separately on Tuesday, authorities suspended flights in and out of eastern Ukraine’s industrial hub of Donetsk. It is unclear why the flights were suspended or how long the suspensions were to remain in effect.

‘Steps away’ from military action

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned in interviews with four European newspapers published on Tuesday that Ukraine is close to war.

Dozens of people died in the Ukrainian city of Odessa last week when pro-Russian militants clashed with their opponents, and Kyiv forces are fighting separatists who have seized control of towns in the east of the country.

“The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation,” Steinmeier told El Pais, Le Monde, La Repubblica and Gazeta Wyborcza. He added that the conflict had taken on an intensity “that a short time ago we would not have considered possible.”

Russia announced on Tuesday that it will abide by a 2010 strategic arms reduction treaty with the United States despite their differences over the crisis in Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying.

Signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 2010 as part of a general improvement in bilateral ties with Moscow was hailed in Washington as a major success for President Barack Obama.

But relations between Russia and the United States have since soured over the war in Syria, with both sides pulling out of various forms of cooperation, and are now at their lowest since the Cold War due to the crisis in Ukraine.

In March, Russian news agencies quoted a source as saying the Defense Ministry was considering suspending on-site inspections under START.

However, Ryabkov told RIA Novosti news agency, “There are no reasons today not to fulfill the treaty.”

Black Sea Fleet bolstered

Also on Tuesday, Russia said it will beef up its Black Sea fleet this year with new submarines and warships, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying.

New air defense and marine infantry units would also be deployed at the fleet’s bases, which include Sevastopol in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March.

“New submarines will join the Black Sea fleet, as well as new-generation surface ships, this year. All this requires much attention from us,” Interfax news agency quoted Shoigu as saying.

The fleet, which analysts say comprises around 40 frontline warships, is seen as a guarantor of Russia’s southern borders and a platform for projecting power into the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

The West has imposed sanctions on Russian officials, businessmen and companies in response to the Crimea annexation, and Washington and Berlin have threatened more penalties if Moscow disrupts Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for May 25.

Leaders of the anti-government movement say they plan to hold a referendum on autonomy for eastern regions on May 11.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s parliament is holding an emergency session to discuss the escalating crisis in the east of the country.

Ukrainian media reported on Tuesday that security chiefs are expected to brief lawmakers of the Verkhovna Rada behind closed doors on the situation in the east, where pro-Russian forces have seized government buildings and police stations in a string of cities and towns.

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