Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union have reached a surprise deal aimed at de-escalating the worsening Ukrainian crisis.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
Leaders meeting in Geneva called the outcome a positive step, but warned that the measures have to be implemented rapidly to reduce tensions.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a deal was reached in Geneva with Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in an attempt to decrease tensions in parts of the former Soviet republic.
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Pro-Russia separatists have wreaked havoc in Ukraine’s southeast in recent days, occupying state buildings in several towns and cities in the already destabilised country.
Russia denies any links to the separatist forces, and Mr Lavrov insists Russia has no desire to send troops into Ukraine
Mr Lavrov says immediate initial steps to de-escalate tensions have been agreed upon by all parties at the meeting.
“We are calling for these steps to be made: all military formations have to be disarmed; all the seized buildings have to be returned to their legitimate owners; all the occupied squares and streets have to be freed and amnesty has to be given to all protesters except those who committed grievous crimes.”
The agreement was reached with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ukraine’s Acting Foreign Minister believes the latest deal is a major breakthrough which will test Russia’s commitment to the process.
US President Barack Obama says the agreement provides a “glimmer of hope” but has warned he can’t be sure if Russia will live up to it.
“Russia right now still has its forces amassed along the Ukrainian-Russian border as a gesture of intimidation. And it is our belief – and not ours alone – but I think broad portions of the international community believe that Russia’s hand is in the disruptions and chaos that we’ve been seeing in southern and eastern Ukraine. But there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different approach. We are encouraging them to do so.”
The United States government has focused on providing financial support to Ukraine and pressuring Russia diplomatically, instead of trying to quickly overhaul Ukraine’s heavily outnumbered and outgunned forces.
Mr Obama says the international community is prepared to take additional measures if Russia fails to take a different course, but he did not specify what these measures would be.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding a nationally broadcast talkback when the talks were taking place.
He said he hopes Russia will not have to use military force in eastern Ukraine.
“I can remind you that Russia’s Federation Council granted the President the right to use military force in Ukraine. I very much hope that I will not have to use that right and that we will be able solve all current pressing issues in Ukraine by political and diplomatic means.”
The talks occurred as the Ukrainian parliament met to discuss the deteriorating situation in the east of the country.