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While a ceasefire takes hold in Syria, the war in eastern Europe rumbles on with almost 10,000 dead

Clashes of the conflict have returned to the highest level in a year.

Russian-backed rebels walk past a destroyed building in the town of Vuhlehirsk in Ukraine last year.
Russian-backed rebels walk past a destroyed building in the town of Vuhlehirsk in Ukraine last year.
Image: PA

THE FRENCH FOREIGN minister told Ukraine today there was “no plan B” to a tattered blueprint for ending a 29-month war with Russian-backed separatists that has destabilised the EU’s backyard.

The visit by Jean-Marc Ayrault and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier for talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came after one of the bloodiest days in weeks saw government forces and the separatists lose three fighters each.

International monitors warn that clashes of the hybrid war in the vast eastern European nation have returned to the highest level in a year.

France and Germany helped negotiate a February 2015 deal that was meant to end the bloodshed and decide the status of the rebel-run regions by the end of last year.

But the so-called Minsk Agreements between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France and a subsequent series of ceasefires have done little to halt daily battles that have killed nearly 9,600 people and destroyed much of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

Germany and France thus feel politically bound to find a lasting solution to one of Europe’s bloodiest crises in decades and mend ties with Russia after accusing it of stirring and backing the revolt with its own troops.

Ukraine Russia Ukrainian tanks and armoured personnel carriers advance towards the de-facto border with Russian-held Crimea last month. Source: PA

Indispensable Russia

The Cold War-style tensions have effectively frozen Western trade ties with Russia and torn apart trust at a time when Washington needs Moscow to resolve the complex wars in Syria and Iraq.

Both Ayrault and Steinmeier urged Kiev’s pro-Western leaders to commit themselves more fully to the 13-point plan agreed in Minsk under which the rebels would get partial autonomy within a unified Ukraine.

“There is no plan B,” Ayrault said at a joint press conference in Kiev with Steinmeier and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

The Minsk agreement must be implemented.

Steinmeier added “we came with a promise from Moscow that effective (Thursday) there will be a truce that will last at least a week.”

Russia US Not me: Russian President Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria and denies culpability for the war in Ukraine. Source: AP/Press Association Images

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Decentralisation

Poroshenko on Tuesday urged parliament to pass “decentralisation” legislation that would give more freedom to regions like the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.

But lawmakers feel the measure and another law on elections in rebel-run regions would effectively cede the war zone to Russia and refuse to back the bills.

The resulting diplomatic stalemate has been reflected by warfare in which neither side gains ground while causing havoc that destroys homes and causes almost daily casualties.

Ukraine’s foreign minister argued for his part that Kiev needed a “clear vision and consequential steps whose implementation is guaranteed by Russia”.

Moscow says the terms of a peace deal can only be agreed in direct talks by Kiev and the rebels – which Poroshenko has refused to hold

The two European diplomats are due to visit the government-held frontline city of Kramatorsk this Thursday.

© AFP, 2016

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