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Rex Tillerson “conducted consultations” by phone with Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko on the eve of his closely watched first trip to Moscow as US secretary of state, the Ukrainian leader’s office revealed on Tuesday.
The deepening Syrian crisis was expected to take centre stage during the highest level US-Russian discussions since Donald Trump took over as president. The statement by Ukraine’s presidential office, however, made clear that Mr Tillerson was also expected to discuss the west’s other standoff with Moscow: the three years-long smouldering conflict in Ukraine that erupted with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and fermenting separatist proxy war in far eastern regions.
“The U.S. Secretary of State assured that the United States supports territorial integrity of Ukraine and insists on the fulfilment of the Minsk agreements, particularly on the importance of ensuring ceasefire regime,” the statement from Mr Poroshenko’s office read, referring to the faltering peace agreement brokered in early 2015 by Germany and France. The statement was released just as Mr Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday.
Addressing concerns that Ukraine’s interests, namely rights to the Crimean Peninsula, could be traded off as part of a US-Russia deal struck over Syria, Ukraine’s presidential office said, “Rex Tillerson emphasised that Washington will not allow any package deal [as a] solution to the situations in Ukraine and Syria.”
Mr Poroshenko, the statement added, thanked the US for “supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression in Donbas and non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea.”
Noting that Mr Poroshenko and Mr Tillerson would continue consultations after the US Secretary of State completed his talks in Moscow, the statement added: “Ukraine and the USA are today together defending democratic values, hence sanctions [targeting Russia for its actions in Ukraine] must remain in place until full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”