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No Progress Seen After Initial Ukraine Talks

FILE - Ukrainian army soldiers park their APC as they guard a building in Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 26, 2014.

Ukrainian government negotiators and their pro-Russian separatist counterparts have ended a first day of talks Wednesday without visible signs of progress toward ending an eight-month rebellion near the Russian border.

Separatist envoy Denis Pushilin, in comments to a rebel-controlled news agency, described the talks in Belarus as "difficult." He said no date had been agreed upon for a next meeting.

Ahead of the talks, Pushilin told Russian media that negotiators would seek agreement on the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line and an end to Ukraine's economic sanctions in the Russian-speaking east. He also had said more talks would take place Friday.

The closed-door meeting brought together delegates from Kyiv, the separatist movement, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A cease-fire announced in September has largely failed to stem the fighting, which has claimed more than 4,700 lives since April.

Wednesday's talks came less than a day after Ukraine's pro-Western parliament voted to repeal a law establishing the country as neutral and nonaligned. The 303-8 vote, reflecting Kyiv's hardening stance toward Russia, opened the way for Ukraine to pursue closer military and strategic ties with the West.

The change in the law, a priority of Ukraine's government, is not likely to have any immediate effect on Ukraine's relationship with NATO. But it sparked an angry response from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which called the vote "counterproductive."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, speaking Monday, warned that Ukraine's "application for membership in NATO" would turn the country into what he called "a potential military adversary of Russia."

The Kyiv government and its Western allies accuse Moscow of directly supporting the Ukraine rebellion with military hardware and fighters. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied direct involvement and says Russian soldiers fighting alongside rebels in Ukraine's east are doing so as volunteers.

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