Six soldiers killed in Ukraine; Germany pushes peace
Germany offers to broker peace talks
KIEV, Ukraine – An insurgent ambush killed six soldiers Tuesday in eastern Ukraine as Germany moved to jumpstart a possible plan toward peace that includes launching a dialogue on decentralizing the government in Kiev.
Ukraine’s leadership appeared cool to the plan and U.S. officials view its prospects for success skeptically. But some analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is more likely to accept a deal that doesn’t come from Washington.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Ukraine to try to broker a quick launch of talks between the central government and pro-Russia separatists. That would be a first step in implementing a “road map” drawn up by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe aimed at settling the crisis.
The OSCE is a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that includes Russia and the U.S., whose sparring over each other’s role in Ukraine sometimes overshadows events on the ground.
Speaking in Brussels, acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk thanked the OSCE for its plan but said Ukraine has drawn up its own “road map” for ending the crisis and noted the people of his country should settle the issue themselves.
A settlement has been elusive, as insurgents in eastern Ukraine seize police stations and government buildings. Two regions in the east have declared themselves independent after a weekend referendum, and one of them, Donetsk, has appealed for annexation by Russia.
Ukrainian forces have mounted an offensive to try to put down the armed insurgents. On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said six soldiers were killed by insurgents who ambushed a convoy. The separatist leader in Luhansk, one of the regions that declared independence, was shot and wounded, insurgents said.
With the tensions high between Washington and Moscow, Steinmeier may be a more effective interlocutor. A senior official in the U.S. administration told the Associated Press that the U.S. had been coordinating with Germany and encouraging its leadership for a diplomatic path in Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to discuss the Ukraine crisis in public.
Putin “is far more likely to bow to pressure if it’s going to come from (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel than Barack Obama,” said Michael Geary of the Institute for European Global Studies at Switzerland’s University of Basel.
The OSCE plan, by encouraging discussion of decentralizing the government, suggests that the West sees Russia as having the upper hand. Moscow has pushed for the “federalization” of Ukraine – giving the regions more powers.
The OSCE plan calls on all sides to refrain from violence and urges amnesty for those involved in the unrest as well as talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language. It envisages a quick launch of high-level roundtables across the country bringing together national lawmakers and representatives of the central government and the regions.
Russia called for a swift implementation of the OSCE plan, saying its demand to end violence means that Kiev should stop its military operation to recapture buildings in the east, lift its blockade of cities and towns, pull its forces from eastern regions and release all insurgents.
It added that it expects separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions to respond in kind if Kiev does. However, the insurgents previously defied Putin’s call to put off the referendum and they brushed off a call to disarm and leave the buildings they occupy that was part of a conflict-resolution pact that Russia, Kiev, the U.S. and the European Union negotiated less than a month ago in Geneva.
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