BERLIN (Reuters) - Ukraine and Russia agreed on Wednesday to create demilitarized zones and implement other security measures in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, but they remained at odds over how to move toward local elections.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after talks in Berlin with the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine and France that it would be “a big step forward” if the measures were actually implemented and helped strengthen a fragile ceasefire.
Other steps agreed during the three-hour meeting included greater information-sharing and a halt to military exercises along the dividing line between the separatist territories and Ukraine proper that has led to violence in the past, he said.
The parties also agreed to new measures aimed at resolving conflicts more quickly which would be monitored by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he said.
More than 9,000 people have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine erupted in April 2014. A ceasefire agreed in Minsk in February 2015 is largely holding despite regular skirmishes and violations.
Steinmeier said the ministers had failed to reach agreement on a process for holding local elections, but said Russia and Ukraine had for the first time at least presented some concrete plans on the issue which would be worked on.
“The greatest danger is that the conflict will escalate again,” Steinmeier said. I assume the parties to the conflict want to see progress in the discussions. Only this can prevent a flare-up of hostilities.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Kiev continued to insist on the right of Ukrainian refugees to vote and run for office in the separatist areas as well as on the need to ensure full and universal access for all media.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated accusations that Kiev was dragging its feet in fulfilling its obligations under the Minsk peace agreement.
Kiev accuses Moscow of supporting the separatists with weapons and fighters in order to destabilize Ukraine and its Western-leaning government, a charge the Kremlin denies.
Reporting by Berlin Newsroom, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, and Alexander Winning and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones