Paris: A summit reviving a European push to bring peace to eastern Ukraine has ended with a call for the delay of contentious rebel plans to hold local elections this month and for both sides to begin a promised withdrawal of smaller-caliber weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday at a long-awaited summit in Paris that was overshadowed by international concerns about Russia's military intervention in Syria this week.
The meeting was the first since the leaders worked out a peace deal in Minsk in February. That accord has been troubled, but there have been signs of progress in recent weeks, including a breakthrough agreement this week on withdrawing tanks and many weapons.
After the meeting, Poroshenko said the government side would begin the pullback today that will take 41 days, his press office reported.
Asked whether the pull-back agreement, which should effectively alleviate a threat of artillery attacks on civilians, means an end to the war, Poroshenko said: "It means there's a truce. The war will be over when the last piece of the Ukrainian land has been liberated," his office said.
The conflict in Ukraine's industrial heartland between Russia-backed separatists and government troops, which has killed more than 8,000 and displaced 2 million, broke out in April 2014, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea.
Poroshenko's comments showed that Kiev is not going to compromise on Crimea, which Russia occupied after a hastily called referendum.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has dwindled significantly in recent weeks, but tensions remain over the final status of the rebel regions. A particular concern is over a dispute about regional elections planned October 25 and other elections the rebels are proposing October 18 and November 1.
Hollande said after the summit that the local elections should be organised under the Ukrainian election law, "which means the elections of October 18 cannot be held." He said the elections could be held 90 days after Ukraine passes a law enabling the vote.
The Ukrainian parliament earlier this year passed a law, calling local elections across the country, excluding the east since Ukrainian officials have no access to these areas.
Conducting the vote in rebel-held areas without cooperation with Kiev could among other things pave the way to electoral fraud: when rebels elected their leaders last October they had no access to official Ukrainian electoral rolls, meaning that multiple voting was impossible to prevent.