The leaders of Germany and France – Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande – who announced a new peace plan for Ukraine yesterday (5 February) during a meeting with the country’s President Petro Poroshenko, are due to hold talks with Russian President Putin in Moscow today. The coordinated trip by both European leaders comes as pro-Russian rebels advanced on a railway hub held by Ukrainian troops after launching an offensive, thus effectively wrecking a five-month-old ceasefire. Moscow commended that it hoped the strategically important talks with Merkel and Hollande would be “constructive”. Hollande told a news conference on Thursday that “Together with Angela Merkel, we have decided to take a new initiative,” and added that both leaders have introduced the new proposal “to solve the conflict which will be based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
Meanwhile, Washington announced that it was moving towards a decision soon on arming Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also visited Kiev yesterday, but, unlike the European leaders, he had no immediate plans to go to Moscow and was not involved in the Franco-German initiative, though reportedly supported it. Also, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to meet top European leaders in Brussels and Munich this week to discuss boosting security particularly in EU’s eastern regions, providing financial and military aid to Ukraine and try to find a common ground for further tightening economic sanctions on Russia.
According to German government sources, the key stumbling block in resuming peace talks was the fact that the current front line no longer corresponds with what was agreed at talks in Minsk last year. If the ongoing talks were to lead somewhere, Kiev would have to accept that the separatists now control several hundred square kilometers more than agreed in Minsk, thus effectively accepting the gains achieved by pro-Russian rebels, though without Kiev having to give up its claim to these areas remaining as a part of the Ukrainian state. According to EU and Ukrainian sources, the ultimate goal of the peace process should, however, be that the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.