Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is prepared to move forward with Friday's scheduled talks on the Ukraine crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, his senior foreign policy advisor said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
“Tomorrow we are ready to talk in a constructive way and count on achieving some agreements that would contribute to the overall stabilization of the situation, the establishment of direct contacts between officials in Kiev and Donbass,” Yuri Ushakov, a former Russian ambassador to the U.S. and now Putin’s closest foreign policy aide, said. Ushakov said that Putin hopes to incorporate aspects of proposals he made earlier in the conflict.
Hollande and Merkel landed in Kiev on Thursday and will travel to Moscow on Friday for what appear to be emergency talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin to strike a deal to end the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. A five-month fragile ceasefire has completely fallen apart in eastern Ukraine since the new year.
Pro-Russian separatists have expanded their controlled territory by over 200 square miles over the past four months by pushing back the Ukrainian army and pro-Kiev militias trying to hold a delineation line. The two would seek a solution “based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Hollande said in a press conference on Thursday. The normally diplomatic French leader was direct about his position on talks.
“Now we are in a war, and in a war that can be a total war,” Hollande said. “There are two options: Either we start thinking that we should arm the protagonists … or there is another option which is that of diplomacy and negotiation. [Negotiations] cannot continue indefinitely.”
The ceasefire, which both Merkel and Hollande championed, was part of a series of accords signed by the Ukrainian government and separatists in Minsk, Belarus, last September. The government agreed to give increased autonomy to two separatist oblasts, Luhansk and Donetsk. Some experts speculate that separatists are seeking to rapidly reclaim land they lost earlier in the conflict before going back to the negotiating table.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also landed in Ukraine on Thursday to discuss U.S. economic and military assistance to Ukraine. He will not travel with Merkel and Hollande to Moscow to meet with Putin. Moscow interprets any U.S. effort to provide weapons to Ukraine as a security threat, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
In light of the Ukrainian military’s losses on the front, U.S. President Barack Obama has mulled whether to send the “lethal aid” that Ukrainian officials have requested since the beginning of the conflict. The U.S. currently provides “nonlethal aid” such as blankets, night-vision goggles and engineering equipment.
Sending lethal aid threatens to escalate the conflict and give Putin more leverage to increase his country’s support of pro-Russian separatists, experts said last week.