Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Russia/Ukraine: Update--Meeting Between Ukraine's Petroshenko, Russia's Putin Unproductive

According to The Associated Press, the Tuesday (August 26) meeting between Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union (EU) in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

The meeting came as Ukraine said its forces had captured ten Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and the shelling spread to a new front in the far southeast. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, which Russia denies...daily.

Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, the Ukrainian president said the purpose of his visit was to start the process of searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine would be considered.

Putin devoted most of his opening remarks to trade, arguing that Ukraine's decision to sign an association agreement with the EU would lead to huge losses for Russia, which would then be forced to protect its economy. Russia had been counting on Ukraine joining a rival economic union that it is forming with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine is set to ratify the EU association agreement in September.

On the fighting that began in April 2014 between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, Putin said only that he was certain the conflict "could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives."

Poroshenko would be unlikely to agree to Russia's frequent call for federalization, devolving wide powers to the regions from the central government, but could agree to allow them to have some expanded powers.

He also has spoken against holding a referendum on Ukraine's joining NATO; Russia's desire to keep Ukraine out of the alliance is seen as one of Moscow's key concerns.

COMMENT: In typical form, Vladimir Putin was characterized as being "dumb like a fox," and characterized all incursions into Ukraine as either a misunderstanding or an effort to provide humanitarian aid."

In opening Tuesday's meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to "discard political ambitions and not to seek a political division."

Putin has so far ignored requests from the rebels to be annexed by Russia-- unlike in March, when he annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Yet, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on the border has seen the rebels with a wide range of military equipment, including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers, and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters.

Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they have captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain some sort of leverage over the mostly Russian-speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union.

Local residents in Novoazovsk, some hastily packing up in order to flee, told THE AP it was not clear what direction the firing had come from on Tuesday.

In Kiev, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, blamed the shelling on "Russian mercenaries."

Novoazovsk lies on the Azov Sea on the road that runs from Russia to the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol. That same road goes west to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

"The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway," US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said on his Twitter account.

Asked if he knew they were on Ukrainian territory, he said: "When we got into the village we saw a tank with Ukrainian flag. Then we understood." He said they then came under fire.