Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Minsk on Wednesday. They shook hands and talked about the Russian paratroopers recently detained in Ukraine among other things. Putin tried to diminish importance to the incident saying it was an isolated mistake. But just next day have been reports of rebels backed by Russian soldiers entering in one town in southeastern Ukraine.
The border is extremely porous. Poroshenko said that, as a result of the Minsk meeting, Ukraine and Russia will launch consultations between border agencies and general staffs of both countries in the context of the settlement of the situation in east Ukraine. But the situation on the ground is every day more complex.
“We have agreed that consultations between the border forces will begin immediately with the aim to ensure the implementation of this condition [the establishment of control over the border of Ukraine and Russia],” Poroshenko told reporters at the end of his visit to Minsk, informs Interfax.
Poroshenko claims the Ukrainian side insisted on the immediate release of all the hostages and pointed to the need to close the borders to prevent illegal shipments of weapons and military hardware from Russia. It was also agreed at the meeting in Minsk that the contact group with the participation of the OSCE would boost its work to settle the situation in the east of Ukraine.
“A road map will be developed on the basis of the peace plan, maybe consultations will be held through a tripartite contact group in order to declare a ceasefire, which will be monitored by representatives of the OSCE monitoring mission,” Poroshenko said, adding that the ceasefire should be observed by both sides, according to Interfax.
By his part, Vladimir Putin said that
Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a ceasefire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine itself. We can only support the creation of a environment of trust during this possible and, in my view, highly necessary negotiation process. We spoke about this. We spoke, where possible, about what Russia could do to make this process possible. But Russia did not impose any conditions. We cannot do that, we do not have any right to do so. This is a Ukrainian affair; it is up to Donetsk and Lugansk.
We expressed our concern with regard to the humanitarian component. That is true. And, indeed, President Poroshenko does not deny the complexity of the humanitarian situation. It cannot be characterised as anything other than catastrophic. We talked about the possibility – this is another topic, I did not mention it earlier – and the need to provide humanitarian assistance to Donetsk and Lugansk, and we agreed on how we will cooperate in this area. I will not get ahead of myself, but overall, we have certain agreements here as well. We will look into how to do this.
Putin talked of another pressing issue that affects many European countries
We talked about cooperating in various sectors. Why was this imperative? Currently, we are in a deadlock on the gas issue. You see, this is very serious matter for us, for Ukraine and for our European partners.
It is no big secret that Gazprom has advanced payment for the transit of our gas to Europe. Ukraine’s Naftogaz has returned that advance payment. The transit of our gas to European consumers was just about suspended. What will happen next? This is a question that awaits a painstaking investigation by our European and Ukrainian partners. We are fulfilling all the terms of the contract in full. Right now, we cannot even accept any suggestions regarding preferential terms, given that Ukraine has appealed to the Arbitration Court. Any of our actions to provide preferential terms can be used in the court. We were deprived of this opportunity, even if we had wanted it, although we already tried to meet them halfway and reduced the price by $100.
In an earlier speech Putin warned Ukraine that
The rejection of common CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States lead by Russia) technical norms and adaptation to EU standards will cost Ukraine billions of euros. It will lose its partnerships with the Customs Union states in industry, finance, agriculture and transportation. As soon as Ukraine introduces zero import duty on goods from the EU, a step envisaged right after the ratification of the agreement that would apply to 98 percent of all the goods, there will obviously be a sharp increase in the supply of European goods to the Ukrainian market. We understand our European partners; they have already developed the Ukrainian market rather well, and would like to get hold of whatever is left and squeeze out everyone else. Besides, less competitive Ukrainian produce will also be squeezed out from its own market. Where to? Primarily to Russia and the other Customs Union states, but primarily to us.
Later he added:
I would like to note here that we do not intend to discriminate against anyone, and we will not do it. I simply wanted to make this perfectly clear. We will simply be forced to introduce a regular trade regime for Ukraine. The same one that applies to trade between Russia and the European Union. It is called the most-favoured nation treatment. Sounds good and is exactly to the point. However, no preferences that are now envisaged by the CIS free trade zone regulations.
We will of course take a very careful look at the application by our Ukrainian friends of the phyto-sanitary norms envisaged by the EU Association Agreement and we will mirror them. Our regulations in this area are very flexible now. We will introduce the exact same norms for Ukraine; and as regards the industry, one of the major components here, as I have said, is establishing the origin of the goods. We have a strong suspicion, as I have already said, and there is a great threat that European goods will be brought in through Ukraine.