MOSCOW, August 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko together with the top leaders of the European Union and the Eurasian Customs Union are to gather in Minsk on Tuesday to discuss the Ukrainian crisis and hold a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the event.
“Everyone expects that the Minsk meeting will allow the exchange of opinions on the extent that efforts are on in settling the political process with the goal of settling the crisis in Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday.
The Minsk talks will mark the first encounter between Putin and Poroshenko since early June when they had an informal conversation while attending the World War II commemoration ceremony in Normandy.
Whether the two presidents will hold a bilateral meeting in Minsk is still unclear.
"There’s a whole range of bilateral meetings," Lavrov said Monday, adding that "exactly who will meet with whom will be announced additionally.”
Apart from the Russian and Ukrainian presidents the Minsk talks will also be attended by Catherine Ashton, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Guenther Oettinger, the European energy commissioner, and Karel De Gucht, the European trade commissioner.
Commenting on the forthcoming meeting, Ashton said last Sunday that in Minsk she would seek to convey to Ukrainian authorities the importance of good relations both with EU countries and Russia.
“You need good relations with your European neighbors; you need good relations with your Russian neighbors ... This is the message that I will take to Minsk,” Ashton said at a European political forum in the Austrian town of Alpbach.
The Minsk summit was preceded by a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine at the Villa Borsig in Berlin on July 2. Following the two-hour negotiations Sergei Lavrov, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Laurent Fabius and Pavlo Klimkin came up with a joint declaration confirming their commitment to peace and stability in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the ministers did not ink an agreement on the de-escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.
THE SUMMIT AGENDA
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed Monday that among the topics that could be discussed at a Putin-Poroshenko meeting are the Ukrainian crisis, humanitarian aid and the flow of refugees into Russia.
The possibility of an inclusive internal dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions of Ukraine, which Peskov says is “the only way to resolve the conflict," could also be discussed.
The parties will also negotiate the bilateral relations "in the context of Ukraine’s decision to sign the Association Agreement with the EU," Peskov said.
According to Poroshenko’s press service, the meeting will address a number of political and economic issues, including Ukraine's Association Agreement with the European Union and the stabilization of the situation in war-torn eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and the 28-member bloc inked an association agreement that stipulated the creation of a free trade zone in June, three months after the parties signed into force a package of political provisions.
According to Poroshenko's statement last week, Ukraine plans to submit an edited version of the nation’s agreement with the European Union in September.
Lavrov earlier said Moscow did not object to closer ties between Kiev and Brussels, but pointed out that Russia would be forced to protect its economic interests against an inflow of cheap European goods via Ukraine, which is also a member of its Customs Union.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Valeriy Chaly, a deputy chief of staff to Poroshenko, said last week the meeting could open the possibility for a peaceful solution of the Ukrainian crisis, suggesting that the summit could possibly help the parties to move toward developing a real road map out of the war.
“I think that the coming two weeks will be decisive for transforming war into peace. The telephone diplomacy is giving way to direct contacts” Chaliy told reporters last week, commenting on the forthcoming talks in Minsk.
“It is important that this format is multilateral. We are grateful to the EU for such support,” Chaly emphasized, calling the participation of three European commissioners in negotiations in Minsk “unprecedented."
By contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week expressed her doubts about the meeting seeing a breakthrough in terms of Russia-Ukraine relations, but acknowledged the importance of the Minsk talks.
Echoing the German chancellor, Ukrainian political scientist and head of the Center for Systemic Analysis and Forecasting, Rostoslav Ischenko, is skeptical about the outcomes of the Minsk negotiations.
No actual road map should be expected from the talks, Ischenko said, adding that Poroshenko is not ready to propose a viable solution to the current crisis.