By John Irish and Marine Pennetier
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he saw no better way of negotiating an end to the conflict in Ukraine than through the Minsk agreements, sharply differing with comments by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson said on June 14 that the Trump administration did not wish to be “handcuffed” by the 2015 accords, brokered in the Belarussian capital by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, and he suggested Kiev could reach a separate, independent agreement with Moscow.
Three years after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and then backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in fighting that has seen 10,000 people killed, there is little sign of a peaceful solution despite a ceasefire agreement signed in February 2015 in Minsk.
Speaking after meeting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Macron said: “We need to give ourselves a few months to succeed within the framework of these accords.”
Referring to Tillerson’s comments to a U.S. congressional hearing, Macron said: “I see that for some this is not ideal … but I have not seen a better solution being offered or rather I have not understood it.
“The question is not about the principles since these accords have been signed, but the question of daily implementation,” he said.
In an interview with Reuters, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said he was not especially concerned by separate U.S. efforts.
“They (the United States) are considering how to engage,” he said, suggesting Washington might be considering a “parallel track with a different level of engagement”.
“This is not the real issue. (What matters) is our joint commitment to getting results and whether the level of coordination is enough to get them,” Klimkin said.
Asked about a potential weapons deal with the United States following Poroshenko’s visit to Washington on June 21, Klimkin said details were still being finalised.
“We are talking about defensive weapons and not lethal weapons that could escalate the conflict. We are talking about modern communications, counter battery systems, electronic warfare which is being used … extremely effectively on the Russian side,” he said.
“We need to match their capabilities to not let them engage in further attacking actions. It’s not about escalating the conflict, but keeping the Russians at bay.”
Both Macron and Poroshenko said they hoped a new “Normandy format” summit – involving the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia – would take place in the coming weeks, but officials cautioned this would be a pointless effort unless there were tangible results.
The four leaders would speak by phone in the coming days.
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that both sides in eastern Ukraine were violating the ceasefire and expressed doubts over prospects for resolving the crisis in the near-term.
To avoid fruitless talks, Macron said he wanted pre-conditions set before any future negotiations, including breakthroughs on removing troops from borders, greater monitoring by international observers and progress on the humanitarian and prisoner situation.
Poroshenko said he was much more optimistic after meeting Macron that the summit could produce concrete achievements.
“We want documents to be prepared beforehand so that they can bring peace in Ukraine,” he said.
Poroshenko added that Kiev was ready to respect all the points in the Minsk deal, but demanded a round-the-clock presence of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in frontline areas if Ukrainian troops were to pull back.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones)