Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ukraine/Russia: Petro Poroshenko, Vladimir Putin Meet in Minsk, Progress Unlikely

According to AFP, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine hold key talks Tuesday (August 26) with little hopes for a breakthrough in resolving the raging conflict pitting Kiev against pro-Moscow separatist rebels.

Hours before the crunch talks, Kiev ratcheted up tensions by releasing footage purporting to show ten Russian soldiers captured on its territory who a Moscow military source claimed had crossed into Ukraine "by accident."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian leader Vladimir Putin arrived in Minsk for a meeting with top EU officials and the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus, in an effort to defuse tensions that some fear could trigger all-out war between Kiev and and Moscow.

Kiev's security service said paratroopers from Russia's 98th airborne division were captured about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

Ukrainian media on Tuesday aired footage purporting to show the captured Russian paratroopers confessing to entering Ukraine in armored convoys.

COMMENT: Kiev has long accused Moscow of stoking the separatist insurgency raging in its east, but this is the first time Ukrainian authorities have claimed to have captured soldiers from Russia's regular army.

On the ground there appeared no end in sight to the four months of conflict that has already claimed some 2,200 lives and has sent tensions between Russia and the West soaring to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

AFP reported seeing smoke rising from the town of Novoazovsk close to the Russian border, where Ukraine's military said fighting was raging with pro-Russian rebels.

The Ukrainian military meanwhile said that 12 soldiers had been killed and 19 wounded in the past 24 hours.

Fighting has intensified in the run-up to the key talks in Minsk with the rebels appearing to launch a counteroffensive after losing swathes of territory to a push by government forces.

It was unclear whether Poroshenko and Putin would hold bilateral talks during the meeting in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Officials from the EU and Russian-led Customs Union were set to discuss the crisis as well as trade following the signing of key political and economic agreements by Ukraine's new pro-Western leaders with the European Union in June.

As Ukraine's political transition continues, Poroshenko on Monday announced long-awaited early Parliamentary elections for October 26.

Some 400,000 people have fled their homes since April in fighting that has left residents in some besieged rebel-held cities without water or power for weeks.