Breakthrough to Ukraine peace in recent days, no alternative to Minsk deal - German FM

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says there has been a serious breakthrough in fulfilling the Minsk peace roadmap in Ukraine. Despite any difficulties encountered, he says, the participants must press on with implementing the deal.

Steinmeier was speaking at a meeting of NATO member states diplomats in Antalya, Turkey. "Despite the fact that in two places [in eastern Ukraine] the ceasefire is still fragile, in the past few days there has been a serious breakthrough in implementing the Minsk agreements, concerning the creation of working groups," Steinmeier told the gathering.

He was referring to the decision taken on May 6 by representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE to create four working sub-groups to help implement the peace roadmap. They focus on security, political issues, economy and refugees. The political and economic sub-groups are scheduled to hold meetings in the Belarusian capital on May 16.

Despite noting the progress, Steinmeier also acknowledged the way to peace is not going to be smooth: "There are a lot of obstacles on the road to implementing the Minsk agreements. Like I did before, I share the point of view that the process remains long and difficult. I hope that with the creation of the working groups we have approached a solution."

Speaking on the sidelines of the Antalya meeting, Steinmeier noted that despite those difficulties, Minsk remains the only way forward.

"Acknowledging the fact that the settlement process is difficult and that the ceasefire is very fragile, does not mean an alternative solution is being prepared," he said, as cited by RIA Novosti. "There are no alternatives, despite any difficulties, to working on implementing the Minsk deals. I am sure the NATO secretary general, as well as most of my colleagues here in Antalya, share that point of view."

The words of Germany's top diplomat come as Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in Berlin. Ahead of the negotiations, Merkel also told the media that the Minsk deals remain "the base for searching for peaceful solutions in Ukraine." She was, however, less optimistic about the progress made so far: "We are not where we want to be. There is still no complete ceasefire, especially in Shirokino and the Donetsk airport. There are still casualties." She said achieving a full ceasefire will be one of the topics of her talks with President Poroshenko.

READ MORE: Kerry urges Poroshenko to ‘think twice’ about reigniting Ukraine conflict

On Tuesday, Poroshenko vowed to take back Donetsk Airport, which is situated in the demilitarized area outlined by the Minsk agreements, but is still the scene of violent outbreaks. His remarks prompted a warning from the US secretary of state, who urged Poroshenko to "think twice" before inciting any new hostilities.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko said he thinks that any processes in eastern Ukraine, including humanitarian ones, can only go ahead after a ceasefire is implemented.

"I just want to endorse the statement of the OSCE made by Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission,in which he clearly stated thatall political processes, all economic processes, all processes that need to be addressed, including humanitarian plane, should be started only after we ensure firm ceasefire, guarantee withdrawal of heavy machinery and artillery, achieve the release of hostages, provide an opportunity for the OSCE inspectors to check all withdrawn weaponry’s storage places," Poroshenko said before meeting Angela Merkel.

"We do not see any progress in that direction," the Ukrainian President added.

READ MORE: The Minsk ceasefire deal, point by point

The Mink agreements were struck in September 2014 and February 2015 by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. They outline the steps that need to be taken to bring about peace to conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, including a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and a constitutional reform aimed at decentralization of power.