European Leaders Agree to Meet In Minsk As Pressure Builds To Resolve Conflict In Eastern Ukraine

ukraineFollowing a joint telephone conference call on Sunday leaders from France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to meet and conduct further talks on Wednesday in Minsk, Belarus that is aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The four world leaders are working to restore a fragile peace accord that was signed in September during the signing of the Minsk Protocol between the Russia Federation and the Ukrainian government that implemented an immediate ceasefire but failed to stop the fighting.

One of the proposals on the table, according to French President Francois Hollande, is the creation of a 50-70 kilometer (31-43 mile) demilitarized zone based on the “current frontline” which reflects the territorial gains that pro-Russian separatists made in recent months since the Minsk Protocol was enacted and is not the same internationally recognized sovereign border that was in place during the signing of the Minsk agreement last September.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has refused to embrace the proposal.

“There is only one line, and that’s the line from the Minsk agreement” Poroshenko said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be meeting with President Obama and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, said that it was unclear if the proposal would succeed but it was “definitely worth trying”.

Since September numerous military incursions have occurred across eastern Ukraine led by heavily armed pro-Russian separatists.

According to some estimates, pro-Russian separatists have managed to take over 500 square kilometers (193 miles) of territory in eastern Ukraine which comes after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014.

Ukraine’s government reported that scores of Ukrainian troops were killed in recent days and pro-Russian separatists are massing ground forces and hardware around Debaltseve and the coastal town of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine.

However, the Kremlin and pro-Russian separatists continue to deny any Russian involvement in the conflict.

Top U.S. military commanders and several prominent Republicans have advocated for arming Ukraine’s government to defend its borders despite reticence and skepticism from leaders across Western Europe who are afraid of a war emerging on their doorsteps.

Western European leaders have failed to cobble together a cohesive plan beyond sanctions to confront an aggressive Russian president whose expansive foreign policies led to territorial gains but have been accompanied with an increase of international sanctions at a time when Russia’s economy has weakened from the plunge in oil prices and remains particularly vulnerable.

On Sunday at the Munich Security Conference, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was skeptical that diplomacy would work with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McCain advocates for defensively arming Ukraine’s government.

“He wants to dominate Ukraine, as well as Russia’s other neighbors” McCain said about Russian President Putin.

“He may make tactical compromises here or there, but just as a prelude to further aggression” McCain added.

On NBC’s Meet the Press aired on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned that the U.S. will continue to provide Ukraine with assistance but he fell short of explaining any specific details.

“I have no doubt that additional assistance of economic kinds and others will be going to Ukraine” Kerry said.

“And we do so understanding that there is no military solution. The solution is a political, diplomatic one. But President Putin’s got to make the decision to take an off ramp. And we have to make it clear to him that we are absolutely committed to the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine no matter what” Kerry added.

On February 5th, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met before reporters at NATO Headquarter in Brussels, Belgium.

When asked by a reporter if providing defensive weapons to Ukraine encourages more Russian aggression, Hegel said that the conflict in Ukraine won’t be resolved militarily.

“And I think we shouldn’t forget, either, what President Obama has said, what the leaders of European nations have said, NATO nations have said. The issue is not going to be solved militarily. This is going to–this issue, the Russian aggression in Ukraine, is going to have to be resolved differently” Hagel said.

“And the military piece is a piece, it’s a reality, and what the Russians are doing as they are arming the separatists, as they continue to build inventories along the border, those are realities. What’s happening in Crimea is a reality. But we, all powers involved, have to make decisions based on where we think the best, most effective path is for the longer term resolution of the issue” Hagel added.

-Johnathan Schweitzer

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