BERLIN (Reuters) – Ukraine must have a say in any deal struck between Russia and the United States aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine, its deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Ukraine, which has been battling pro-Russian separatists in its eastern Donbass region for nearly three years, is worried that U.S. President Donald Trump will cut Kiev out of any peace negotiations as he attempts to improve ties with Moscow.
“Because we are talking about the future of our country, we don’t want to be excluded from the negotiations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal told Reuters. “We don’t want to be a card (to be played). We want to be an actor.”
“I don’t believe in gentleman’s agreements anymore,” Zerkal said, noting Russia had violated an earlier deal – the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, under which Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan gave up nuclear weapons in exchange for assurances of territorial integrity – when it annexed Crimea.
Zerkal reiterated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s call for the West to maintain sanctions imposed against Russia over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in the Donbass.
“This is the only tool we all have in order to prevent (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from a further spree of aggression,” she said.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, has suggested he might do away with some sanctions if Russia helps in battling terrorists and achieving other goals important to Washington.
In another setback for Ukraine, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election, Francois Fillon, said during a visit to Berlin on Monday that sanctions against Russia were “totally ineffective” and suggested they could be lifted.
Zerkal, in Berlin for talks with German government officials, said she hoped Chancellor Angela Merkel would continue to press for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“She is the only person in the world who can communicate and persuade Putin to make something work, or not to do something,” she said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Sabine Siebold and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Gareth Jones)