MOSCOW: The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine on Thursday discussed advancing peace in east Ukraine, but achieved little as progress is also hampered by the coronavirus restrictions.
The four top diplomats held a teleconference on Thursday as a planned face-to-face meeting was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The so-called “Normandy format” of discussions on the six-year conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed rebels in the east follows a summit in December 2019, where Moscow and Kiev agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces.
But Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov said the ceasefire “is not being observed” and said there have been civilian casualties.
“Today we have called on Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk to take additional measures in support of the ceasefire,” the Russian foreign minister said of the four-way talks in a press-conference.
Over 13,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since the war broke out after separatists took control of parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
The line of contact has been monitored by observers with the OSCE, which have reported continuing shelling.
The monitors also report that they have been denied access to separatist areas in eastern Ukraine since late March due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Germany’s Heiko Maas said monitor access is “essential” and that COVID-19 should not be “misused as an argument to harm the work of the OSCE.”
“Obviously the pandemic has not made it easier to implement things that have been agreed, but it should not be an excuse” for not carrying out feasible steps, he said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised to settle the conflict, and some signs of de-escalation showed after the December summit, with several high-profile exchanges of prisoners.
But Moscow and Kiev on Thursday contined to swap accusations, with Lavrov saying that Kiev “avoids direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba however said Kiev will not engage “illegal groups” in dialogue and accused Moscow of not honouring its own promises.
“But we must keep working,” he said. “We have to move forward because we don’t have any other Russia, we only have this Russia and we must continue dialogue to stop Russian aggression.”