Ukrainian separatists agreed on Thursday to resume peace talks to end the conflict in the east, but President Petro Poroshenko warned he might not extend a ceasefire beyond Friday night if their gesture was aimed only at buying time.
The move by the pro-Russian rebels, who have been fighting government forces since April, came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time in two days to discuss how to end the crisis.
In Berlin, a government source said the aim of the phone call, which Moscow said took place at Merkel’s initiative, was to find a way of prolonging Kiev’s ceasefire which is due to expire at 3 p.m. EDT on Friday.
More than 420 people, including Ukrainian servicemen, rebels and civilians, are estimated to have been killed in the fighting, the United Nations said in a statement dated June 24.
Poroshenko said he had heard of the rebels’ readiness to hold a second meeting on Friday with the so-called “contact group” which includes former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Moscow’s envoy to Kiev and a high-ranking official from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
But, despite Western pressure on him, Poroshenko hinted heavily that there might be no extension of the ceasefire unless Kiev was satisfied with the results of contact group talks.
“It [Friday] is a very important day: If our conditions for the peace plan are not accepted, then we will make a very important decision,” online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda quoted him as telling the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.
Poroshenko, installed as president only on June 7 and under pressure from his electorate not to bow to the separatists, has warned that government forces would switch to a “detailed Plan B” – widely assumed to be a government offensive – if the rebels use the ceasefire to re-arm and regroup.
‘DEEDS, NOT WORDS’ NEEDED FROM RUSSIA, POROSHENKO SAYS
Poroshenko has called on Russia to support his peace plan “with deeds, not words.”
Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Thursday, the President called for Moscow to support the peace plan with deeds to “stop the killing of civilians and the military” and prevent armed separatists from crossing the Russian border into Ukraine.
Putin said he supports the plan. This week he won agreement from the upper chamber of the parliament to cancel authorization for the use of force in Ukraine.
PARIS: KERRY URGES RUSSIA TO MAKE SEPARATISTS DISARM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after meeting with France’s Foreign Minister, said on Thursday Russia should call on separatists in Ukraine to disarm within “the next hours.”
“We are in full agreement that it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they’re moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm, to call on them to lay down their weapons and to begin to become part of a legitimate process,” Kerry told reporters in Paris.
He added that EU leaders would discuss possible sanctions moves on Russia at their summit in Belgium starting Thursday.
“We all agree that they need to be ready. But our preference is not to have to be [in] a sanctions mode. We would like to see a co-operative effort between the United States, Europe and Russia and the Ukrainians,” he said.
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