(Vatican Radio) Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko says he is ready to help Ukraine revive stalled peace negotiations over its separatist conflict in the east. Lukashenko told his Ukrainian counterpart in Kiev that he wants to facilitate a new round of talks with pro-Russian separatists.
A September gathering in the Belarusian capital Minsk led to a shaky ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and the rebels, as well as moves towards greater autonomy for two of Ukraine’s eastern region.
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Yet Lukashenko's talks in Kiev were condemned by protesters who said Ukraine's government shouldn’t deal with a man the United States has called "Europe's last dictator".
Analysts say Ukraine's year of crisis has been unsettling to the Belarusian leader, who has ruled his nation with an iron fist since 1994.
Critics claim Lukashenko wants to fend off any protest movements like those that drove out Ukraine's Russia-friendly president in February and moved the new government closer to the West.
While he visited the pro-Western government in Kiev, several independent news websites were blocked back in Belarus where the government exerts close control over news media.
Last week, the Belarusian parliament passed legislation declaring Internet sites as mass media and therefore subject to closure by the government, ahead of presidential elections in November.
Despite controversy surrounding Lukashenko, his efforts to mediate a peace deal in Ukraine has been welcomed by Kiev and the West, which has accused Russia of supporting separatists.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has even said the conflict with Russia could be resolved in those talks within weeks.
The European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, who visited Kiev last week, agreed that Moscow has shown more willingness to seek peace.
However she cautioned that though there had been what she described "expressions of a willingness" to resolve the crisis, but she said "concrete acts" should follow "on the Russian side."
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yevhen Perebyinis agreed. "We want practical steps by which we mean the withdrawing Russian troops and a halt to the weaponry, military hardware and Russian armed forces crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border.”
The conflict that killed more than 4,700 people saw a festive break on Sunday: A Russian aid convoy crossed the border into eastern Ukraine delivering Christmas trees and presents.
Moscow says 180 trucks headed to Donetsk and Luhansk and also carried food and medicine, though Kiev maintains Russian aid convoys have also been used to aid the rebels.
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