Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, as tensions flare on the two nations’ border.
The leaders will attend talks today with European Union representatives in Minsk, Belarus, during a summit of the Customs Union, a Russian-led trade bloc. No separate bilateral meeting is yet planned between them, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.
The talks are bringing no respite to the conflict that the United Nations says has left at least 2,000 dead since Putin annexed Crimea in March. Ukraine yesterday said an armored column including 10 tanks entered from Russia as the government in Moscow unveiled plans to send a second convoy with humanitarian aid into its neighbor’s rebel-held territory.
“There is little ground for optimism,” Lilit Gevorgyan, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said by e-mail. “Neither Russian not Ukrainian leaders are ready for a serious compromise to end the conflict as both have to keep up the appearance of being staunch defender of their respective national interests.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Poroshenko in Kiev two days ago, said “one big breakthrough” is unlikely today. Lavrov said the discussions will focus on economic ties, the humanitarian crisis and the prospects for a political resolution in Ukraine. EU representatives at the talks will seek to continue three-way energy talks with the two countries in September, the European Commission said in a statement yesterday.
Ukraine, which agreed to a $17 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund in May, may need as much as $8 billion in additional external aid during the next two years to finance the mounting costs of war, military revamp and reconstruction in the east, Chris Weafer, a founder of Macro Advisory in Moscow, said by e-mail.
Putin and Poroshenko have both “tried to strengthen their respective positions in recent weeks, but both are under increasing pressure to bring an end to the conflict,” he said. “The problem remains that neither wants, nor can afford, to be seen as a loser in the conflict.”
The ruble weakened 0.2 percent to 36.1646 against the dollar yesterday. The Micex stock index gained 0.6 percent to 1,454.67 by the close in Moscow. Ukrainian markets were closed for a holiday.
While Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the conflict, the U.S. and its EU allies say Putin is supplying the insurgents with weapons, manpower and financing and say he could stop the war if he reined in the separatists.
Lavrov called on the Red Cross and Ukraine to help with the second delivery of assistance as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the war-torn regions.
Russia has informed Ukraine of plans to dispatch another column of trucks this week, with the convoy taking the same route through rebel-held territory as the tractor-trailers that returned to Russia two days ago, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow yesterday. The U.S. and the European Union condemned the decision to send the first convoy of about 280 trucks, which the government in Kiev called an “invasion” after it crossed the border without authorization.
Poroshenko expressed concern about the plan for a second aid convoy when he discussed today’s talks with European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, according to a statement on the Ukrainian leader’s website.
The new delivery of aid by Russia needs Ukraine’s agreement and should allow for the Red Cross to control the distribution of humanitarian cargo, Didier Burkhalter, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said yesterday in Tallinn, Estonia.
“We want to coordinate our actions with Ukrainian authorities, which are also planning to send additional humanitarian aid to the southeast,” Lavrov said. “We’ll work on ensuring security guarantees from the side of the militias.”
The Russian Red Cross said it will discuss the plan for the second convoy with Pascal Cuttat, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional delegation, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported.
Meanwhile in Kiev, Poroshenko dissolved parliament and called early legislative elections for Oct. 26. The ruling coalition collapsed last month when two parties pulled out to force a snap vote. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who became prime minister in February after months of street protests turned deadly and led to the ouster of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, will remain in a caretaker role until his successor is installed.
Tensions continued to flare in the border areas, with the Ukrainian military saying that Russians disguised as insurgents tried to infiltrate the country and the column of armored vehicles crossed the frontier.
Ukrainian government forces destroyed two tanks, captured crew members and seized other vehicles from the column that was flying separatist banners, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the country’s military, told reporters in Kiev yesterday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had no information about the incident and accused Ukraine of providing “a lot of disinformation.”
Border troops stopped the advance of the armored column into Ukraine from Russia, blocking the main roads as it tried to move toward the port city of Mariupol in the southern Donetsk region, according to a statement. The press services at the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry in Moscow were unable to comment immediately when reached by Bloomberg after working hours.
Russia aims to enter the negotiations with “the strongest possible hand,” said Alexei Makarkin, a deputy director at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies.
“The Kremlin’s moves to boost the rebels’ position and Lavrov’s hard-line statements, while seeming to contradict Russia’s stated desire to reach a deal, are aimed at entering the talks from a position of strength,” Makarkin said by phone yesterday.
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