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27 Apr, 2021 16:01

US backs Minsk agreements to end bloody conflict in Donbass, contradicting Ukrainian calls for changes to terms of 2014 peace deal

US backs Minsk agreements to end bloody conflict in Donbass, contradicting Ukrainian calls for changes to terms of 2014 peace deal

American diplomats have reiterated their support for a longstanding plan to put an end to fighting in war-torn eastern Ukraine, just one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was outdated and should be amended.

On Monday, in an interview with the Financial Times, Zelensky suggested that the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014, were effectively unworkable. “I’m now participating in the process that was designed before my time,” he said. “The Minsk process should be more flexible in this situation. It should serve the purposes of today not of the past.” He doubled down on the comments speaking to local TV crews later on Tuesday.

The pact, developed by Ukrainian, Russian and international representatives at a meeting in the Belarusian capital, was never implemented, with both Kiev and the self-declared Donbass republics accusing each other of failing to honor their commitments. Its terms include a full ceasefire and a ban on heavy weapons. Recent weeks have seen escalating bloodshed along the contact line, with Kiev’s forces clashing with those loyal to the breakaway regions, which have looked to Moscow for support.

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However, the next day, the US State Department confirmed to TASS that it believed the format was still the best way to end the bloodshed, and simply requires implementing rather than revisiting. “We continue to support the Minsk agreements as the basis for a diplomatic settlement,” the diplomats said, while accusing Moscow of having provoked the conflict in the first place.

“For this framework to be successful, Russia must fulfill all the obligations it has undertaken in accordance with these agreements, as well as work in good faith to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

Western analysts have previously said that Kiev sees the Minsk arrangements as flawed and unattainable, and there is an increasingly large bloc calling for the deal to be discarded.

Renewed fighting in recent weeks has led to reports of soldiers and civilians dying on both sides of the divide. “The situation on the contact line in Ukraine is extremely unstable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. “The dynamics of the development of this state of affairs, and the behavior of the Ukrainian side, creates the danger of a resumption of full-scale hostilities.”

Moscow has warned that an all-out offensive by Kiev could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and threaten the security of Russia. If this were to happen, Peskov said, “no country in the world would stand aside. And all countries, including Russia, would take measures to prevent such tragedies from happening again.”

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Analysts reported that tens of thousands of Russian troops had been deployed along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks, sparking claims in the West that the Kremlin might be close to ordering an invasion. However, last week, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that a series of drills had been concluded and the soldiers would return to their normal bases. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, he confirmed that the exercises had been a response to “threatening NATO activities” in the region.

Later the same day, Zelensky arrived on the border with Crimea for an inspection of Ukrainian military units stationed there. “We are viewing our positions, and we are checking the readiness of equipment, our fighters, and our brigades,” he said.

The Ukrainian president warned that the country could not view the conflict as resolved, claiming that “the fact that the [Russian] troops are withdrawing does not mean that the army should not be ready for the fact that they could return to the borders of our country at any moment.”

Zelensky has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to participate in bilateral talks over the future of the Donbass. However, the Kremlin has said that it would be wrong to cut out the leaders of the two breakaway regions in Donetsk and Lugansk.

“Russia is not a party to this conflict, and Moscow is convinced that the only correct step for a settlement can be the implementation of the provisions of the Minsk package of measures, as well as establishing a direct dialogue with representatives and leaderships of the two self-proclaimed republics," Peskov said on Tuesday, adding his voice to those advocating for the existing agreements to be honored.

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