BASEL, Switzerland (AFP) – The Ukraine crisis was to take centre stage Thursday at a meeting of top diplomats from OSCE nations after US President Barack Obama said Moscow was unlikely to shift its stance until sanctions really hurt.
Europe’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini called for a “strong political signal” on the crisis that has resisted multiple peace efforts and plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
She was speaking ahead of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who will also hold talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the two-day meeting in the northern Swiss city of Basel.
The 57-member Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is charged with monitoring a shattered ceasefire between the Ukrainian army and separatist Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine reached on September 5.
However, efforts to reach a lasting peace in the eight-month conflict have so far proven futile.
The overall ceasefire has failed to fully stop fighting in a conflict that has left some 4,300 people dead, and a long-awaited local truce around the flashpoint Donetsk airport appeared to crumble Wednesday just hours after it was signed.
“It is not a Ukrainian crisis, it is not an OSCE crisis, it is about Russian aggression,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin as he arrived at the talks.
The threat of further economic sanctions hung over Russia, already facing recession, for its support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
A European source said Mogherini’s bilateral talks with Lavrov would focus on a wide range of issues, including Ukraine and Russia’s thorny relations with the EU.
“Energy topics” will also come under the spotlight, the source said, after Putin un-expectedly shelved the multi-billion-dollar South Stream gas pipeline, which would have bypassed Ukraine to deliver Russian gas directly to southeast Europe.