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Peace calls amid tensions in Ukraine-Russia feud

Peace calls amid tensions in Ukraine-Russia feud

dpa
Moscow/Kiev
The threat of conflict enveloped Ukraine for another day on Thursday, though a few voices calling for a peaceful way out of a situation that seems to be escalating managed to be heard.
Ukraine and Russia have both raised alarms about military exercises staged by the other, in Russia’s case near the Ukrainian border and in Ukraine’s case near territory controlled by pro-Russian militants in the country’s east.
Furthermore, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week accused Russia of planning a coup. Meanwhile, Russia is raising noises that Ukraine is getting too friendly with NATO and has raised warnings about the former Soviet republic joining the Western bloc and bringing NATO to Russia’s borders.
Ukraine now estimates the number of Russian soldiers on the border at 115,000, while the Kremlin recently accused Ukraine of moving more than 120,000 soldiers to the border with the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. With so much unclear about any of the major players’ intentions, fears are on the rise in numerous European capitals. However, Russia said on Thursday it is open to talks involving the United States.
“We have an interest in joining efforts to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the Stockholm at the start of a meeting with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken. “Our US colleagues have said more than once that they want to help,” he added.
Previously Russia had always stressed that the Normandy format, in which only France and Germany mediated between Ukraine and Russia, was sufficient. Russia has no interest in conflicts, Lavrov stressed on the sidelines of the meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
At the same event, Blinken criticised Russia’s actions, echoing statements he made on Wednesday after a NATO meeting. The United States is “deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for further significant aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “We call on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, to reverse the recent troop build-up, to return forces to normal peaceful positions and implement the Minsk commitments,” Blinken said, referring to a peace plan hammered out in the Belarusian capital. “Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this crisis. And we stand fully ready to support it,” Blinken added.
The OSCE criticised the lack of progress towards a solution. “Humanitarian needs must prevail over political considerations,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said at the start of the two-day OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting.
An OSCE observation mission must be guaranteed unlimited access to all of Ukraine, said the Swede, whose country has the chairmanship of the organization this year.
As Linde underlined, the meeting is taking place in the face of several simultaneous crises in Europe. The meeting was about rebuilding mutual trust and cooperation between the 57 OSCE states, she said, adding that a climate of resentment could turn into a climate of confrontation.
“We need to reverse this trend because almost eight years after the outbreak of the conflict regarding Ukraine, the European security crisis is widening,” she said.
Perhaps as a step in that direction, Ukraine passed a law on Thursday that extends for another year a special status for the eastern part of the country controlled by the pro-Russian separatists.
The move officially keeps Kiev involved in peace talks to resolve a conflict that has brewed for more than seven years. Two-thirds of lawmakers voted for the measure, which extends the relevant law through December 31, 2022.
The original 2014 law calls for an amnesty for fighters in the separatist zone and would also offer some autonomy to people in the region. However, it would only enter force after municipal elections were allowed to take place in the east.
According to the UN, more than 13,000 people have died in the long-simmering conflict between Ukrainian forces and the separatists controlling the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Fighting routinely flares up. There were more deaths in 2021 than in the previous year, a reversal in trend.
But there were also setbacks, as three Ukrainians were arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage. One of the men was preparing a terrorist attack in Russia, the Russian domestic intelligence service FSB announced on Thursday. The other two had spied on strategically important companies and objects for the Ukrainian domestic intelligence service SBU, it said.
Russian state television released a video of the FSB showing explosive devices and the suspects. SBU spokesperson Artem Dekhtyarenko described the Russian statements as misinformation. “Such statements by the FSB must be viewed exclusively through the prism of hybrid war, in which information propaganda and the spread of misinformation play an important role,” Dechtjarenko told the Kiev-based internet newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda.

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