2014-12-24 16:53:00

Ukraine peace talks in Minsk amid anger over NATO

(Vatican Radio) - Warring parties in eastern Ukraine have begun a new round of peace talks in Belarus, despite Russian anger over Kiev's decision to work towards NATO membership. Wednesday's negotiations, to be continued Friday, came after Ukrainian legislators voted to abandon their country's neutral status. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

The gathering in Minsk involving pro-Russian separatists, Ukrainian officials, international monitors and Russia -were expected to focus on the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops, the release of prisoners, as well as providing aid to war-torn eastern Ukraine. 

Negotiators view these measures as crucial because a September ceasefire agreed in Minsk was repeatedly violated. The Christmas Eve talks came despite Moscow's condemnation of Ukraine's decision to move closer towards NATO membership. 

On Tuesday, Ukraine's Parliament voted to drop the country's neutral status, which had prevented it from joining a military alliance. 

However in a statement, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov accused NATO of pressuring Ukraine to make the move. 


And, he said, that "Under the slogan of a 'Russian threat,' NATO is expanding its military potential in the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania."

Despite these tensions, Kiev hopes its negotiators will be able to strike a deal with Moscow and pro-Russian rebels on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 4,700 people. 

Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a notorious optimist, said fighting between his government forces and Moscow-backed rebels could be over soon.  

"Within two, three weeks, if we get out Russian troops and close the [Russian-Ukrainian] border, there would be law, order and stability in Ukraine," he said. 

"We don't have an internal conflict at all. We have a humanitarian catastrophe where people in Donetsk and Luhansk [regions] not receive any money or social benefits or pensions. They have significant difficulties to reach food and medicines," Poroshenko noted. 


"We should stop this humanitarian catastrophe. Restoring all law and order and restoring the internationally recognized border is a very important part of the job," the president added.  

Russia denies it provides military aid to pro-Russian separatists.

But NATO isn't convinced. It has halted cooperation with Russia over both its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and Moscow's alleged support for the pro-Russian insurgency. 

And alliance moved to reassure its members in eastern Europe by stepping up air patrols over the Baltic Sea and rotating military units in and out of countries like Poland and the Baltic republics.

Deputy Minister Antonov warned Wednesday that Russia now plans to expand military cooperation with China, Egypt and Latin American countries. Moscow says it is especially discussing provisions for Russian navy ships to use ports in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for supplies and maintenance.



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