Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko shook hands as talks between the Eurasian Customs Union, EU and Ukraine began in Minsk. The crisis in eastern Ukraine is likely to dominate the agenda, with Poroshenko calling on the forum to accept his peace plan.
Putin and Poroshenko greeted each other with a handshake as they met in the Belarusian capital at the start of talks on the Ukrainian crisis.
In the opening statement, Russia's president said that Moscow is interested in not only maintaining its cooperation with Ukraine, but even expanding it.
However, Putin expressed doubt that the two countries will be able to achieve this goal in case of Kiev’s association with the European Union gets enacted. Moscow will be forced to implement countermeasures if this happens, he added.
“We do not want to discriminate against anybody,” he said. “We are simply going to implement a standard trade regime regarding Ukraine – the same, which is used in relations between Russia and the EU.”
Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko stated the goal of his visit is to do everything possible to stop bloodshed in the country's restive east and begin process of finding a political compromise. The effective means for that is establishing good border controls, he noted.
Poroshenko also called on the meeting to accept his peace plan for Donbass, a historical name for Ukraine’s eastern provinces.
“I am convinced this plan remains relevant today and would be an effective means to stop the bloodshed and to start rebuilding Donbass,” he said, pledging to take the interests of the people living in the region into account.
In his turn, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev urged the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to provide joint humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
"A break for a truce is essential," Nazarbayev said, adding that a ceasefire should be announced in Ukraine in order “for the children and women affected by the conflict to get help.”
Praising the initiative, Poroshenko said an international forum on the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine is set for autumn; both the EU and Customs Union are invited to take part.
— Irina Galushko (@IrinaGalushkoRT) August 26, 2014
The negotiations in Minsk are part of a Customs Union summit, which also includes the Ukrainian president and representatives of the European Commission, the Kremlin’s press service said prior to the meeting. The Customs Union comprises Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine will be discussed during the meeting between the Customs Union and Ukraine, according to Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“[One] can’t ignore the catastrophic situation in eastern regions of Ukraine, especially in Donetsk and Lugansk [Regions],” he said, adding that the key issue on the agenda is “the relations between and countries of the Customs Union and Ukraine, including in the aftermath of the signing of the Kiev Association Agreement.”
Peskov also didn’t exclude the bilateral meeting between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart.
“There are many issues for discussion [between Putin and Poroshenko],” he said, “They [issues] include Ukrainian domestic crisis and terrible humanitarian catastrophe in the country’s east, and the necessity of the ceasefire.”
— Irina Galushko (@IrinaGalushkoRT) August 26, 2014
Putin and Poroshenko may also discuss “bilateral relations between Russian Federation and Ukraine,” including in the aftermath of Kiev’s signing the European Trade Association Agreement with the EU.
The bilateral talks between Putin and Poroshenko, if they take place, will be the first negotiations between the leaders. They last met during the D-Day anniversary commemorations in Normandy, France on June 6 – a day before Poroshenko’s inauguration as Ukrainian president. However, that meeting lasted less than 10 minutes and included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.
In Minsk, the European Union will be represented by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said ahead of the talks said that he intends to discuss a peaceful way of regulating the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
“The intensity of the dialogue [in Minsk] will be very high,” said Poroshenko, adding that the key issue of the talks will be peace.
“The Ukrainian nation and I stand firm that a peaceful plan of [solving crisis in] Ukraine should come into force,” he added.
Kiev’s military crackdown in the southeast of the country began in April after the people in eastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities and demanded federalization of the country.
According to the UN, over 2,000 people have so far been killed and over 5,000 wounded in the fighting.
On Monday, Russia commenced the distribution of humanitarian aid in the city of Lugansk. But, the humanitarian situation remains “critical” in the city as people are forced to survive without electricity, water and communications due to ongoing fighting between the Kiev troops and the local self-defense forces, Lugansk City Council said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about the necessity of talks in Minsk to regulate the situation in Ukraine’s east.
“All the participants [of the talks in Minsk] agree that it is necessary to start a political dialogue,” said Lavrov.
He added that Russia is willing and ready to participate in full in any type of negotiations on ending hostilities in the east, and expressed hope that the meeting in Minsk will include a focus on the crisis in Ukraine.
“We [Russia] are ready to all type of negotiations, if only we had a result,” he added.