The leaders of France and Germany underlined progress made with Russia and Ukraine over the Minsk ceasefire accord after a one-day summit in Paris that was overshadowed by Russia’s aggressive military push in Syria.
The so-called Normandy four had agreed steps towards increased security for civilians and a political transition in the war-torn regions of eastern Ukraine, said President François Hollande of France, who was hosting the summit.
Local elections planned this month in areas under the control of Russian-backed separatists, a bone of contention between Kiev and Moscow, will be postponed by at least three months after Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko committed his government to passing a bill granting a specific status to those regions. That will delay the full implementation of the Minsk accord beyond the end of the year, as initially planned.
“We tackled contentious points one by one. The elections will be delayed, but this meeting is something positive,” Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said in a joint press conference with Mr Hollande at the Elysée Palace on Friday. “The two parties held good discussions.”
Mr Poroshenko echoed the positive tone, telling Interfax Ukraine that he felt “cautious optimism”, while Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, rushed to the airport through the Elysée ’s back door without commenting on the talks.
The Paris summit was clouded by the Russian air strikes in Syria in the past days, even though Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande insisted the military push had not had an impact on the Ukrainian agenda.
The French and German leaders held bilateral meetings with Mr Putin, during which they urged him to “only target Isis” in the country, following reports that Russian air strikes had hit groups opposed to the regime of Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad and backed by the west. They reiterated concerns expressed in a joint declaration with the US, UK, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey at the Russian strikes on Hama, Homs and Idlib, which they said had led to civilian casualties and which did not hit Isis.
“We told Mr Putin that Isis was the enemy to fight and that we need to push for a political transition,” Ms Merkel said.
But while Mr Hollande reiterated that France would back only a political transition that planned the departure of Mr Assad, held responsible for killing thousands of civilians, Ms Merkel was more cautious on the future of the Syrian leader.
“We need a political process, which at the moment does not exist,” she said. “We need to be prudent in our approach in the region.”
Additional reporting by Roman Olearchyk in Kiev
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