Last year’s Minsk agreement failed to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine and there is little reason for optimism about the latest peace talks in the capital of Belarus.
A Russian source has been quoted as saying that there are no plans to sign a document to resolve the conflict and that the creation of a demilitarised zone would be the main talking point.
But the buffer zone planned in last September’s talks never got off the ground and fighting continues to rage as Russian, French, German and Ukrainian leaders prepare to meet on Wednesday.
France’s President Francois Hollande though refuses to concede defeat, insisting he is going to Minsk with the firm desire to reach a peace deal, pursuing an initiative with Germany’s Angela Merkel.
“We must do everything and until the very last moment of this meeting, the Chancellor and myself will push for an agreement, a comprehensive settlement,” Hollande said.
Where there is a will there is a way, perhaps, but European officials say it is difficult to imagine the rebels agreeing to halt and retreat to earlier positions after weeks in which they have advanced relentlessly.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier phoned his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts urging them to be ready to compromise on difficult questions, a day ahead of the summit.
Britain and Germany meanwhile are actively discussing maintaining and extending EU sanctions on Russia in case there is no breakthrough in the Ukrainian peace process soon, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Tuesday.
“We are actively discussing the maintenance of and the extension of the sanctions regime with the Germans,” Hammond told parliament, saying he favoured rolling over the existing measures until the end of the year.