KYIV — Ukrainian officials Tuesday voiced support for a new round of international negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to the growing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the county. But officials in Kyiv rejected Russia's latest proposal that pro-Russian rebels also be included in the talks.
Despite the expanding military conflict between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists, and the escalating war of words between Russia and the West, diplomacy can still work.
That is what Danylo Lubkivsky, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, thinks. And he says a clear example of this was the negotiated release of observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who were held by separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“It was a good result, a coordinated plan and effort of Ukrainian authorities, [the] OSCE mission, and all international mediators involved. That's actually a clear example how the Geneva agreement can work and should be implemented, if there is a strong political will,” says Lubkivsky.
Ukraine questions Russia's support for any real peace plan and has accused Moscow of supporting separatists in an attempt to destabilize the country ahead of presidential elections scheduled for May 25.
Russia has denied the allegations, and says it is Kyiv and the West that have acted in a provocative manner and alienated Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Lubkivsky says Ukraine supports further negotiations with Russia and Western partners to resolve the current crisis.
He says Ukraine is adhering to the Geneva agreement reached in April, which called for the disbanding of all private armed militias and for protesters to leave occupied buildings.
The separatists in eastern Ukraine refused to comply with this agreement. They say the Kyiv government continues to allow groups like the Right Sector, the pro-Ukrainian militia, to operate freely and allow nationalist protesters to occupy Maidan Square in the capital.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says any new international negotiations should include pro-Russian rebels.
Lubkivsky says Ukraine is open to increased dialogue or a national unity forum that would include all regions of Ukraine. However, he says Ukraine draws the line at negotiating with armed separatists, who he calls terrorists.
“Let us not mix two things, terrorism and national dialogue. We will fight against terrorism and we will ensure national dialogue in the country,” says Lubkivsky.
As diplomats meet in Europe to discuss this crisis, Ukraine's military forces continue to surround separatist strongholds in the eastern part of the country. Ukraine's Security Service said Tuesday the government is reluctant to attack militants in highly populated areas due to the likelihood of civilian casualties.