BERLIN, January 22 (Sputnik) — The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agreed to support urgent withdrawal of heavy weapons in Ukraine during the "Normandy Format" talks over the crisis in the country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.
"The most important decision made today, it is reflected in the joint statement, approved by the results of this meeting — a powerful support to the task of urgent withdrawal of heavy artillery from the line of contact, which was fixed in Minsk agreements, in particular, in the Minsk memorandum of September 19," Lavrov told journalists.
According to media reports, Foreign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that "tangible progress" was made during the meeting, with the sides managing to agree on a demarcation line.
The withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the line of contact between the Ukrainian independence supporters and Kiev-led forces is stipulated by a memorandum signed in Minsk last September. The meeting was mediated by Russian and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representatives.
Despite the ceasefire agreements made in Minsk, clashes have continued in Eastern Ukraine, with the conflicting sides accusing each other of breaking the truce. In the first few weeks, the confrontations have intensified.
Lavrov Says 'Normandy Format' FMs Agree on Contact Group Activation
"A recommendation was adopted that the contact group of representatives of Kiev authorities, rebels, Russia and OSCE activate its work, and that it form a required number of working sub-groups for a full implementation of Minsk agreements," Lavrov said.
According to Lavrov, this decision is "rather significant, because it institutionalizes the format of the contact group, in which the rebels communicate directly with the Kiev authorities."
"We have repeatedly stressed that just direct dialogue, strengthening of direct dialogue between Kiev and representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics is the key to regulating the deep Ukrainian crisis," Lavrov said.
The Russian Foreign Minister stated that it was essential that the Contact Group continue its work as soon as possible. If the work is continued, and the heavy weapons are withdrawn from the line of contact, "then we can talk about a significant de-escalation of the current conflict," Lavrov stressed.
Over the weekend, Russian Foreign Ministry stated it was doing everything in its power to make sure that the Contact Group convene early this week. "We are urging its members and all those influencing the situation to prevent another breakdown [in talks]." Representatives of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics arrived in Minsk on January 16 for scheduled talks on the crisis in the country, but Kiev representatives did not show up, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry.
'Normandy Format' Meeting to Have Demand if Ukraine Ceasefire Implemented
"Our overall conclusion — if there is a progress in halting armed clashes, in ceasefire, in stopping attacks of civilian regions, from which civilians suffer, primarily in Donetsk and other cities of this region, if there is progress in withdrawal of heavy artillery, then the summit in Astana will be sought after," Lavrov said, following a "Normandy Format" meeting in Berlin.
According to Lavrov, "recommendations in this regard will be formulated additionally."
Russia has been attempting to address the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in the so-called Normandy format, including representatives of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. The first such talks were held in June 2014 alongside D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France. The heads of the Normandy quartet countries are expected to meet again by the end of January in Astana.
Anti-Russian Sanctions Not Discussed in 'Normandy Format' Meeting
The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France did not discuss sanctions against Moscow during "Normandy Format" meeting regarding the Ukrainian crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated.
"No, we did not discuss sanctions. Sanctions are not our problem, sanctions are a problem of those who introduced them and now don't know how to get out this vicious circle. But I think that our partners will reach some decision. They understand that it is a dead end, in which they got themselves into. We believe that only full-fledged dialogue, mutual consideration of interests can be the basis for our relationship," Lavrov said.
The United States, the European Union and their allies imposed several rounds of sanctions against Moscow over its alleged role in the Ukrainian conflict. The sanctions targeted the country's banking, energy and military sectors, as well as several individuals. Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, and continues to urge the conflicting sides to establish direct dialogue.