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Russia-Ukraine cool-down in Milan, still tense on border

Russia-Ukraine cool-down in Milan, still tense on border
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Talks this Friday in Milan between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko will be aimed at easing tensions in the eastern Ukraine conflict. It will be their first meeting since the cease-fire agreement in Minsk in August. Before that, they spoke in Normandy in June — the month after Ukrainians elected Poroshenko.

Laying the groundwork for Milan, Russia’s and the United States’ top diplomats coordinated in Paris on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talked about giving dialogue a boost. He said the Minsk agreements provide the conditions to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, but he downplayed Washington and Moscow’s roles.

Lavrov said: “You know, Mr. Kerry and I do not represent the sides that are at war. As I have said, the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis is only possible through direct talks and reaching agreements between the sides of the conflict.”

Secretary of State John Kerry underscored that October 26th legislative elections are viewed as legitimate, and voting for local leaders in the Donbass region, but he warned pro-Russian separatists:

“In our judgement, any efforts to hold independence referenda in Luhansk and Donetsk at this time would be a violation of the Minsk agreements, and the results will not be recognised by Ukraine or by the international community.”

Kerry confirmed that Russian troops were withdrawing away from Ukraine, ordered to move back from the border by Russia’s President Putin after exercises in the Rostov region. The Kremlin has steadfastly denied having had any military role in the Ukrainian fighting.

In the past few days, equipment has been arriving to watch over the border and see that the cease-fire in effect since the 5th September is respected. Drones are meant to be operational by the end of this month. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission will use them at ten checkpoints on the border with Russia.

Numerous cease-fire violations have been reported, especially in Donestk and Mariupol, a strategic Azov Sea port in the hands of the Ukrainians. According to the United Nations, the conflict has already claimed 3,600 lives.