by Kyiv Post+, Oksana Grytsenko
From left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande meet in Kyiv on Feb. 5.
Ukraine's future could be decided in the next days, but not on Ukrainian soil.
As heavy snow descended on Kyiv on Feb. 5, world leaders including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande came to the Ukrainian capital for urgent talks with country’s leaders.
The next day, Merkel and Hollande were to head to Moscow to make one more attempt to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the carnage in eastern Ukraine, offering him their new peace plan.
Depending on the outcome of their talks with Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama could reassess his refusal to supply Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons, Kerry told journalists in Kyiv.
"We are not interested in a proxy war. Our objective is to change Russia's behavior," Kerry said.
He also disclosed at the press conference that Merkel and Hollande had received a set of proposals on Ukraine from Putin.
“But only this afternoon was it announced that they were going to make some kind of a counter-proposal, and we have not yet thoroughly reviewed that with them,” Kerry said. He said the U.S. still wants a diplomatic solution to end the war that has claimed more than 5,000 civilian lives already
“All of this is a part of the consolidated effort to see if we could put a little bit more meat on the bones of a legitimate initiative that could bring about de-escalation of this situation,” Kerry said.
Merkel and Hollande remained tight-lipped, cancelling a previously announced statement for the press after their meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
But before leaving for Kyiv, Hollande -- who has been very conciliatory to the Kremlin -- pleased Russia even more by talking about the undesirability of Ukraine's accession to NATO. “Together with Angela Merkel we have decided to take a new initiative,” Hollande said. “We will make a new proposal to solve the conflict which will be based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported, based on its sources, that the Merkel-Hollande plan will be based on September’s Minsk agreement with self-governance in the eastern Donbas territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists. “The essence of the proposal is to arrange an immediate cease-fire and to allow the separatists in eastern Ukraine broad autonomy in an area that is larger than previously agreed,” the newspaper reported.
Kerry also repeatedly mentioned the Minsk deal as a crucial part of a new peace plan. He said both sides will have to pull out heavy artillery and that Russia will have to remove its troops and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty. He also said both sides will have to release hostages and Ukraine will need to follow up with constitutional reform and pass a law granting autonomy to the separatists.
“President Poroshenko this morning in my conversation with him pointed out that he is committed to supporting the special status law, which is currently on the box, which provides greater economic, municipal and political rights to the Donbas,” Kerry said. He added that Ukraine would be ready to have new elections in Donbas.
Kerry also claimed that Ukraine’s Western allies would not agree to a deal with Putin “at the expense of the sovereignty of Ukraine or its independence.”
But many in Ukraine will not accept the plan to offer powers to people they consider to be terrorists. Poroshenko was criticized for his law that was offering special status to parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. In November, following the unrecognized elections in the separatist republics, Poroshenko canceled this law.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk was skeptical “We had a deal in Minsk, and there are fingerprints of President Putin on this deal. To have a new deal not executing the previous one seems to me a trap,” he said.
Experts see a last-ditch attempt to persuade Putin to end the war, which has helped plunge Russia’s economy into recession. More severe economic sanctions and weapons delivery to Ukraine may happen if Putin rejects this Western overture.
“The message to Putin is clear. The pressure on the U.S. now to arm Ukraine is overwhelming, so unless you want us to go down this path, which would massively increase the costs to you, pull back from the brink now,” said Timothy Ash, a London-based analyst on Ukraine.