MINSK, BELARUS - Belarus on Friday mocked Kazakhstan's suggestion that it could serve as a new venue for Ukraine peace talks previously hosted by Minsk.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a statement released to The Associated Press that the ex-Soviet nation “isn't seeking peacemaker's laurels unlike some others.” He added that moving the talks elsewhere wouldn't change anything.
“The negotiations' venue is hardly relevant,” Makei said. “The negotiations on Ukraine could even be moved to Antarctica if there is a certainty about their success.”
He added that for the talks to succeed it's necessary that every party to the conflict sincerely aims to end the bloodshed.
Belarus has hosted a series of negotiations to try to settle the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted weeks after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
A 2015 agreement signed in Minsk that was brokered by France and Germany helped reduce hostilities that have killed over 10,000 since April 2014, but clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have continued and attempts at political settlement have stalled.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Thursday that the Minsk talks were deadlocked and suggested that his country could host them.
He said on a visit to the U.S. that he discussed the issue during a meeting with President Donald Trump, adding that Trump suggested moving the talks to another location.
Asked to comment on the statements by Kazakhstan and Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the adherence to the Minsk agreements is of primary importance and the choice of venue matters little.
The 2015 peace deal obliged Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.
On Thursday, Ukraine's parliament passed a bill on “reintegration” of the rebel regions that envisages the use of military force to get them back under Ukraine's control. It contained no reference to the Minsk agreement, and Russia warned that the bill effectively kills the Minsk agreements.
In Moscow, Peskov rejected the Ukrainian bill's description of the rebel-controlled areas as “occupied territories” and its reference to Russia as “aggressor,” saying it directly contradicts the Minsk agreements signed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
“Russia isn't a party to the conflict,” Peskov said. “Russia will adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements along with other countries guarantors. We stand for the implementation of the Minsk agreement to settle the internal Ukrainian crisis.”