Russia clashes with US and West over conflict in Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia clashed with the United States (US) and its Western allies on Thursday over the nearly seven-year conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the UN warned that the current fragile cease-fire risks being reversed if peace negotiations become deadlocked.

Russia called the Security Council meeting to mark the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Minsk peace plan brokered by France and Germany. It aimed to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that flared in April 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in the mostly Russian-speaking industrial east called Donbass.

Russia’s United Nations (UN) Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of failing to implement the 2015 Minsk agreement saying: “Over those six years, we still haven’t gotten an answer to two very important questions: How exactly does Ukraine intend to peacefully resolve the conflict, and how does Kiev envisage special status of Donbass within Ukraine?”

The US and European allies France, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Norway, Belgium and the United Kingdom blamed Russia for fuelling the conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people, by providing financial and military support to the separatists.

US Political Coordinator Rodney Hunter, speaking on behalf of the Biden administration, said Russia instigated the conflict in Donbass and “has blocked meaningful progress in diplomatic negotiations while arming, training, funding, and leading its proxy forces and supporting the self-proclaimed `authorities’ on the ground”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with servicemen as he visits the war-hit Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. PHOTO: AP

“The United States reaffirms its unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, accusing Russia of escalating “its oppression of any dissent to its brutal occupation of Crimea”.

The Minsk agreements envisage that Ukraine can regain control over its border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections.

The accord helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but Ukrainian forces continued to exchange artillery salvos and gunfire.

While the July 2020 ceasefire “has largely held up”, UN Political Chief Rosemary DiCarlo said there has been an increase in security incidents in several hotspots in recent months. “This dangerous trend needs to be quickly reversed,” she said.

The ceasefire deal was reached by members of the Tripartite Contact Group that includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe known as the OSCE. It followed a meeting in Paris in December 2019 of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany who expressed support for the Minsk deal and agreed to revive the peace process.

DiCarlo told the council that continuing discussions in these groups are “no reason for complacency” and no substitute “for meaningful progress”, she warned,if negotiations become deadlocked.

“The risk of backsliding is real if negotiations become deadlocked,” she warned.