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Berlin talks aim to revive stalled Ukraine peace process

AFP  |  Berlin 

Top diplomats from and met their German and French counterparts in today seeking to revive long-stalled efforts to end the civil war in eastern

The conflict, half-forgotten by the West amid other crises and its own divisions, has claimed over 10,000 lives and still sees daily clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces.

After over a year on the back burner as France, and have been caught up in their own elections, all three have now turned their focus back on Ukraine which goes to the polls next year.

At the start of the talks -- the first between the quartet in 16 months -- German said they were hoping to reach "a ceasefire that deserves its name". Key aims include the withdrawal of heavy weapons along the frontline, the launch of de-mining operations, and generally "breathing new life" into the 2015 agreement that sought to end the fighting.

Maas said another new topic would be the eventual deployment of a UN peace-keeping mission in eastern Ukraine, but acknowledged that ideas on the issue "are far apart".

While favours blue-helmet troops only along the frontline, would want them to also police the Ukraine-Russian border to prevent soldiers and weapons from crossing.

The last week condemned "continuous violations of the ceasefire" and "the tragic humanitarian situation" on the frontline.

"I have no illusions -- the new start will be difficult," Maas told Bild daily.

On Friday, his French counterpart warned that, given the daily death toll, "the credibility of the current peace process is at stake".

The meeting is an attempt to restore dialogue between the two sides, even as they blame each other for the ongoing conflict.

In a rare phone call Saturday to prepare for the meeting, Russian and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko discussed an "exchange of people being held" by both sides.

But given the deepening distrust between the West and Russia, hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough are low.

After a popular Ukrainian uprising ousted a in in 2014, moved to annex the Crimea peninsula, backing insurgents in the former Soviet state. responded to the territorial grab with a series of asset freezes and travel bans as well as stinging economic sanctions, with retaliating in kind.

Since then, the US and European powers have accused of using hackers and propaganda to sow discord, meddle in elections and back eurosceptics and rightwing populists, as well as ramping up military posturing to threaten eastern European states.

And in 2015, Russia entered into Syria's brutal civil war, defying the West by unleashing a bombing campaign in support of

Relations hit a new low in March when many western states expelled Russian diplomats over Moscow's alleged involvement in the of former double agent and his daughter in Britain.

Putin, who was re-elected to a fourth term in March, has denied all the charges and argued forcefully that hostile NATO powers are seeking to demonise and weaken Russia. Moscow also accused of spreading "bizarre" fake after Ukraine's secret service last month staged the murder of Russian Arkady Babchenko, claiming it did so to foil a Russian plot on his life.

Heightening tensions, Putin on Thursday warned that any military "provocations" during football tournament which Russia is hosting, would have "very severe consequences for Ukraine as a state".

Russia's main goal is the lifting of damaging economic sanctions, a push aided by the rise of sympathetic populist parties in the EU, most recently in

On a visit last week to conservative Austrian Sebastian Kurz, whose far-right junior coalition partners back Russia's claim of sovereignty over Crimea, Putin denied any wish to "divide" the EU bloc.

and agree that any sanctions relief for Russia must be conditional on advances in the Ukraine peace process.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, June 12 2018. 01:10 IST
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