KYIV — A day after four-way talks in Geneva aimed at de-escalating a volatile standoff in eastern Ukraine, leaders in the former Soviet republic still remain unsure about Russian intentions.
Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia repeated concerns also voiced by President Barack Obama Thursday, regarding Russian promises to help de-escalate the tense standoff in eastern Ukraine between Moscow-backed separatists and the government in Kyiv.
"I don't know what Russia, President Putin, what Russia has in mind regarding the eastern Ukraine. However we still believe there are diplomatic means to de-escalate the situation," Deshchytsia said.
The foreign minister had just returned to Kyiv from Geneva, where top diplomats from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union struck an agreement on a series of steps to tamp down violence and political unrest in Ukraine's restive east.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's denials that Moscow has fomented the unrest and sent intelligence operatives in to coach and assist the separatists made the day-long negotiations in Geneva tougher, Ukrainian officials say.
"He was cooperative and aggressive at the same time," Deshchytsia said of his Russian counterpart.
The deal sketched out in Geneva provides amnesty for separatist protesters who evacuate government buildings in a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine they have occupied, except for those found guilty of capital crimes.
All illegal groups are required to disarm as well. It also outlines a commitment by the government in Kyiv to transfer more power to regional authorities.
But the first wrinkles have already appeared. Defiant pro-Russian militants say they won't leave government buildings they are occupying until Ukraine's interim government quits or until Ukrainian security forces have been pulled back.
Clashes in east
On Thursday, Ukrainian forces engaged pro-Russian separatists in the most intense clash yet in the crisis, killing three militants and wounding 13 after separatists attacked a military base in Mariupol, a southeastern port town on the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine's foreign minister isn't alone in doubting the Kremlin's promises to help defuse the crisis. The country's economy minister, Pavlo Sheremeta, also harbors doubts about the Geneva deal.
"I think we share President Obama's concern yesterday that he said that we are unsure what it all means, especially for Russia. We shall see. We will see, too. We are not terribly excited about it. It is much tougher to kid us into some kind of memos nowadays.
"Even the war of words is much better than the war of bullets," he added.
But more challenges remain ahead - even if the deal holds, and the separatists accept it and leave the buildings they have seized. Ukraine's foreign minister says there was much they could not reach an agreement on in Geneva.
"We also discussed the issue of the Ukrainian constitution; the issue of the so-called federalization," he noted. "We also discussed the issue of the Russian language. We also discussed the issue of the Russian involvement into the activities in eastern Ukraine. Those are the issues that we did not get agreement to discuss more deeply and to get a consensus."
Obama says the United State is ready to impose fresh economic sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin doesn't make good on its Geneva commitments.