Last year, on August 26, 2014, President Petro Poroshenko met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Minsk for the second time since Mr. Poroshenko took office in June 2014. It was just two days prior, that Ukraine celebrated its 23rd anniversary of renewed independence.
Also attending the Minsk summit were President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, European Union High Representatives for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, Gunther Oettinger, vice-presidnet of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Energy, and Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade.
During the summit, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted, “The new columns of Russian tanks and heavy armaments that are crossing Ukraine’s border are evidence that a direct counteroffensive has already begun.”
The Russia-led offensive sounded alarms for Western leaders, but their expressions of concern had yielded limited results for Ukraine. Stanislaw Koziej, the head of the National Security Bureau of Poland, said on August 28 that NATO would be willing to sell arms to Ukraine if the request was made at the NATO summit in Wales on September 4-5.
During the Minsk summit, Mr. Poroshenko reminded Mr. Putin of the need to release all hostages as well as close the border to transfers of arms and military hardware from Russia. Mr. Putin responded, “We, Russia, can’t talk about some ceasefire conditions or possible agreements between Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,”
The main dialogue during the summit was about economic transition for Russia-Ukraine trade following Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union. Some of the demands by Russia included a review of parameters and deadlines for reducing Ukrainian duties on EU goods; a relaxing of technical requirements that prevent Russian goods from entering the Ukrainian market as well as Russian sanitary norms to be unified or recognized by the EU.
“There’s no need to portray what’s desired by our Russian colleagues as reality. We won’t change the text of the [Association Agreement]. We will ratify and implement it,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted on August 27.
As the summit continued, that same day, Ukrainian border agents and fighters in the volunteer battalions reported that Russian army sub-units entered Ukrainian territory that day and took control of six villages near the Russian border.
By August 27, Russian forces controlled the town of Novoazovsk, along the Sea of Azov, Donetsk Oblast.
Ten Russian paratroopers, captured by the Security Service of Ukraine, released video-recorded interviews. One named Romantsev said, “We were sent to military action against people that we shouldn’t be fighting in theory. Our propaganda, what is shown on television, on the news, doesn’t correspond with reality.”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki reported heavy fighting near Donetsk city and its airport, “invasions that indicate a direct Russian counterattack in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”
“Tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and reactive anti-aircraft systems, being supplied by Russia, aren’t enough to defeat the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Ambassador Pyatt tweeted on August 28. “Therefore, a larger amount of Russian armies is needed to be directly enlisted in the military actions on Ukrainian territory.”
On Monday, August 24, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is scheduled to meet in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to discuss the de-escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine. Berlin has not ruled out that President Vladimir Putin could make an appearance at the meeting. Other potential topics during the meeting include ensuring access for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Special Monitoring Mission, the creation of a strong international coalition to counter Russian aggression and the implementation of a visa-free regime between Ukraine and the European Union as part of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan.
Source: “Minsk brings few results, as Putin escalates war,” by Zenon Zawada, The Ukrainian Weekly, August 31, 2014.