The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine reached several agreements Wednesday to improve security in the war-torn Donbas region, but failed to agree on holding elections in that part of eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the talks with his three counterparts at a retreat near Berlin, told reporters after the meeting that there had been "clear progress" on the issue of security in eastern Ukraine, but no "breakthrough."
"We reached progress in the security area but the political process remains difficult without a breakthrough today. A mixed progress, but I'm happy that Moscow and Kyiv were ready to work closer together today with the goal to keep the cease-fire," he said.
The parties to the conflict agreed to improve communications and halt military training along the front lines to prevent any escalation of hostilities. Steinmeier cautioned that key parts of the 2015 Minsk peace deal still need to be implemented.
"One of today's agreements is to halt military training maneuvers along the line of contact so as to prevent any escalation. . . If we could provide a sustainable cease-fire that would be a big step forward," he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that Russia's position at the talks in Berlin had prevented an agreement to hold local elections in eastern Ukraine, one of the main issues of the Minsk peace deal.
“Unfortunately the critical issues which are so important for getting the Minsk process further were unable to be sorted out - of course because of, because of the Russian position, because of the Russian unwillingness or unreadiness to come up with electoral modalities on the basis of Ukrainian legislation and on the basis of OSCE standards," he said.
Russia has rejected a proposal for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send an armed monitoring mission to eastern Ukraine for the elections.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow sees no need to deploy such a mission, though OSCE officials are welcome to observe the vote.
Lavrov also insisted that Ukraine's parliament has yet to approve parts of the Minsk agreement, including the passage of bills on holding elections in the east and an amnesty for the separatists.
In February 2015, the quartet's leaders brokered the Minsk peace deal, later signed by representatives of Kyiv and the separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9,300 people and displaced more than 1.5 million others since April 2014.
Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.