The much anticipated one-on-one meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko has begun in Minsk after hours of talks between the Eurasian Customs Union, EU and Kiev in the Belarusian capital.
“The bilateral talks are now under way,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s press secretary.
It is the first sit-down meeting between the two heads of state, as they only had a brief, informal conversation during the D-Day anniversary commemorations in Normandy, France, on June 6, a day before Poroshenko’s inauguration as Ukrainian president.
Earlier, Peskov said that “there are many issues to be discussed” between Putin and Poroshenko if their meeting were to take place.
These are “the discussion of the Ukrainian domestic crisis and the terrible humanitarian disaster in the east of the country, as well as the need for a ceasefire,” he said.
Another important topic is relations between Russia and Ukraine in the light of the signing of the association agreement with the EU by Kiev, Peskov added.
The negotiations are part of a Eurasian Customs Union summit, which also includes the Ukrainian president and representatives of the European Commission.
Presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as well as EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Energy Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, have gathered in Minsk to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
In his closing speech, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said a new meeting on the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict may take place in Minsk on Wednesday.
“All sides supported the idea of Petro Poroshenko to make Minsk a regular venue for meetings of the contact group of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” Lukashenko said.
“It was proposed to gather such a group as soon as possible. Poroshenko insists on the meeting being held tomorrow,” he added.
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Lukashenko admitted the talks were difficult and there was no significant breakthrough.
"The talks were difficult. The sides' positions differ, sometimes fundamentally... Everybody agreed on the need to deescalate and free captives,” he said. “But the very fact of holding the meeting today is already a success, undoubtedly.”
Arriving for the forum in Minsk on Tuesday noon, Putin and Poroshenko greeted each other with a handshake.
In his opening remarks, Poroshenko said the purpose of his visit was "to stop the bloodshed and to start the process of finding a political compromise.” He called on the participants to accept his peace plan for eastern Ukraine pledging to take into account the interests of the people living there.
“The interests of the people of Donbass should and will be taken into account” in this solution, he added.
He stressed Kiev's course to association with the EU saying that "the Ukrainian people have made their choice in favor of a unitary democratic European state.”
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Vladimir Putin in his turn expressed doubt that the two countries
would be able to expand cooperation if Kiev’s association
agreement with the European Union comes into force. Moscow will
be forced to implement countermeasures if this happens, the
Russian president said.
“We do not want to discriminate against anybody,” he said. “We are simply going to implement a standard trade regime regarding Ukraine – the same that is used in relations between Russia and the EU.”
In regards of the crisis in Ukraine's east, Putin said he’s absolutely confident that the Ukrainian crisis “can’t be resolved by further escalation of the military scenario, without considering the best interests of the southeastern regions of the country, without a peace dialogue with their representatives.”
For his part, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev urged the
Customs Union 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.”
Ukraine has been engulfed in a state of civil war since April, when Kiev’s military began its crackdown on the southeast of the country.
The people in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities and demanded federalization of the country.
According to the United Nations’ estimates released Tuesday, over
2,249 people have so far been killed and over 6,033 wounded in
the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The number of internally displaced Ukrainians has reached 190,000, with another 207,000 finding refuge in Russia, the UN said.