Hopes for breakthrough: Moscow talks on Ukraine 'constructive,' joint doc 'possible'

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as French President Francois Hollande looks on during a meeting on resolving the Ukraine crisis at the Kremlin in Moscow February 6, 2015. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)
Five hour-long Moscow talks behind closed doors between the leaders of Russia, France and Germany have brought hopes for further dialogue between Kiev and E. Ukraine. The meeting was said to be 'constructive', but peace plan details remain a mystery.

READ MORE: Putin meets Merkel, Hollande behind closed doors in Moscow

Journalists were given a mere 30 seconds to take photographs of the three leaders, and none of them uttered a single word to the press during the photo-shoot.

Friday’s visit by President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Moscow was a hasty one. No usual diplomatic rituals – European leaders headed straight to the Kremlin from the airport and were on their flights back very quickly after the talks.

Journalists, who spent five hours waiting had to eventually make do with only an afterword from the Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, which didn’t shed much light on what the leaders actually talked about.

On the basis of proposals made by the French President and German Chancellor, there is currently on-going joint work to prepare the text of a possible joint document on the implementation of the Minsk agreements – a document that would include proposals made by Ukrainian President Poroshenko and proposals put forward today by Russian President Putin,” Peskov said.

Preliminary comments from Russian, German and French officials only describe the talks as “constructive.” More clarity is expected on Sunday when the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ – Russia, France, Germany, and Ukraine – discuss the results of the talks by phone.

While the talks’ participants appear enthusiastic, Washington has been skeptical.

I’m not going to say it’s a positive sign that they (Russia) are listening,” said US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “They’ve been listening. They just haven’t been acting,” she added, pointing out that the proposals voiced by Merkel and Hollande haven’t been coming from Washington.

Political analyst Dan Glazebrook isn’t surprised by the US reaction.

Since the last February’s coup (in Ukraine) the role of the US and Britain has consistently been trying to sabotage and scoffer any kind of peace agreement that came on the table,” Glazebrook told RT.

Merkel and Hollande’s surprise visits to Kiev and Moscow this week have been seen as a sign of a rift between Europe and the US. News of Germany and France’s new peace plan for Ukraine came while US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kiev, speaking of possible weapons supplies to Ukrainian government troops.

In an interview during the Munich Security Conference, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told Reuters that he fully supported a new effort by the leaders of Germany and France to try and halt the Ukraine conflict, while saying that supplying Kiev with weapons would only escalate it.


At the same time, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has stressed that the Ukrainian conflict cannot be resolved militarily and the world leaders should not “try and fix the problems at gunpoints.”

‘Problems in Washington and Kiev, not in Paris and Berlin’

The apparently widening policy rift between Washington and the European capitals with regards to the Ukrainian crisis did not go unnoticed, with critics saying that it is in fact the US and Kiev who are creating obstacles which stand in the way of the conflict’s resolution.

READ MORE: Sending weapons to Ukraine would escalate violence – UK Defence Secretary

Martin Sieff, columnist for the Post-Examiner newspaper, spoke to RT about the Friday talks in Moscow: “I think we will be seeing an outlined document, I think there will be significant progress made towards the implementation of a ceasefire. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande [have] belatedly recognized the seriousness of what is happening in Ukraine, they do want to move back from the brink, they do want to restrain the Kiev government, they are strongly in favor on a negotiated settlement. The problems will be in Washington and Kiev, not in Paris and Berlin.”

According to Sieff, the “key rogue player” in the conflict is the Kiev government, which has been backed by the West but is now getting out of control and want to play its own rules on the ground.

“The West created [Ukrainian] President [Petro] Poroshenko, but he is in many respects the tail that wags the dog, they cannot always rein him in. He is the rogue player, he is the joker in this hand,” Sieff argued.

If Washington goes ahead and sends arms to Ukraine as American hard-liners demand, it will be “a very dangerous move,” Sieff said, adding that Hollande and Merkel seem to have “a much greater sense of responsibility” regarding efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

“I don’t think they [the US government] are looking at the real situation on the ground in Ukraine, and I don’t think they’re putting this in the wider context of the crisis America is facing, the other crisis, in the Middle East, where they’re trying to contain ISIS [Islamic State] at the moment. Containing ISIS is quite enough for America to have on its hands after two exhausting war in Iraq and Afghanistan; they cannot afford to let Ukraine cut loose with American weapons and American support as well, that would be insane for the US, it will be an imperial overstretch,” Sieff said.

READ MORE: US partly to blame for Ukraine’s use of cluster bombs – McCain

According to the critic, to resolve the conflict, US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry need to “swallow their pride and get a genuine bilateral relationship going again with President Putin,” as the US-Russia ties are “the most important strategic relationship in the world.” The problem is the lack of debate in Washington about the responsibility of Western powers for the current conflict in Ukraine, as well as the strategic importance and sensitivity of the developments in the region for Russia, he said.