Late two nights ago, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier summoned his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine, and France to urgent talks in Berlin on stopping the civil war in eastern Ukraine, where violence sharply escalated after President Petro Poroshenko’s termination Monday of a ten-day ceasefire. At a press conference after three hours of talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked Steinmeier for convening the meeting, rather than just letting things take their course.
The four ministers issued a statement of agreement, albeit tentative, on key points coinciding with the initiatives Russian President Vladimir Putin had put forward in the June 29 and 30 phone calls among the leaders of the same four countries. Putin’s offer had been contingent on prolongation of the ceasefire, which did not happen.
First and foremost, the foreign ministers said that they “stress the necessity of a sustainable ceasefire, to be agreed upon swiftly and to be observed by all concerned, thus putting an end to violence in Eastern Ukraine.” Furthermore, the ministers “urge that the Contact Group should resume no later than July 5th with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed sustainable cease-fire. This cease-fire should be monitored by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. Ministers agree to take all necessary measures and use their influence on the concerned parties with a view to achieving this goal. Ministers stress the importance of a swift release of all hostages. Ministers welcome Russia’s readiness to grant Ukrainian border guards access to Russian territory in order to participate in the control of border crossings … while the mutually agreed cease-fire is in place. This shall be done in close collaboration between Russian and Ukrainian border authorities.”
The full statement is available in English here.
At the press conference, Lavrov observed that, “unfortunately, we have lost two days, because two days ago the ceasefire was not prolonged. During these two days we could see the evidence (if somebody needed to see it) of what the price is of the lack of a truce, as measured in human casualties, major destruction of civil infrastructure, and [referring to Channel One Russian cameraman Anatoli Klyan] the death of yet another journalist. Still, better late than never.” Speedy agreement on the terms of a ceasefire will be crucial, he said, and for that, the contact group formed last week should assemble as soon as possible. Steinmeier also stressed this point.
The “contact group” refers to the two rounds of informal talks held last week in Donetsk between ex-President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, on assignment by Poroshenko, and representatives of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples Republics, with mediation by OSCE official Heidi Tagliavini and Russian Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov. Lavrov tonight pointed out that no progress can be made without dialogue between Kiev and representatives of eastern Ukraine, and the contact group is the only existing venue for such talks, so far.
Lavrov also stated that the April 17 accords reached among Russia, Ukraine, the USA, and the EU remain a reference point for a more stable truce, and that they require disarming illegal formations on both sides. He added, “I categorically cannot accept the ceasefire being used by one side or the other for the sole purpose of regrouping its forces, and for implementing the aspects of the Plan of President of Ukraine P.A. Poroshenko about which we have expressed serious doubts, namely, the parts that say the militias should either disarm, or face annihilation.”
Heavy Fighting, Civilian Casualties, Humanitarian Catastrophe in the Donbass
Throughout yesterday there were reports of heavy fighting and bombardment of civilian areas in both regions of the Donbass in eastern Ukraine—Donetsk and Lugansk. Though Kiev officials stated on TV that they were attacking the regional militias with surgical precision to avoid civilian casualties, YouTube videos and on-the-ground Russian TV reports documented heavy bombing of residential areas in the Lugansk suburbs of Stanitsa Luganskaya and Staraya Kondrashkovka, far from any militia checkpoints. One entire street, including court and police buildings, was destroyed, with nine civilians killed including children. Kiev said the militias had done this, while eyewitnesses reported it was bombardment from the air.
There is a major offensive against militia positions around Slavyansk and Kramatorsk in the north of Donetsk Region, militia strongholds where the militias describe themselves as “completely surrounded” but still fighting. Residential neighborhoods continue to be pounded in Slavyansk. Today a pumping station on the Northern Donetsk-Donbass canal was destroyed, cutting the water supply to both cities, except for well water. Slavyansk, with at least 50,000 of its population still in the city, is without phone or Internet communications.
Yesterday and today two more Russian regions, Vologda and Vladimir, declared states of emergency, with over 5000 Ukrainian refugees in each. The Russian Federal Migration Service officially reported that 100 thousand Ukrainian refugees have applied to the agency for some level of refugee status, with many more still under regional authorities only, or staying with relatives.