he US and Russian foreign ministers expressed cautious optimism after holding talks in Geneva Monday to end fighting in Ukraine, where the UN says more than 6,000 people have died in less than a year.
The meeting between John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov in Geneva was just one of several attempts at mediation on the conflict Monday, as high-stakes talks to resolve a bitter gas dispute between Kiev and Moscow were also due in Brussels.
Speaking separately after their 80-minute meeting, Kerry and Lavrov both cautiously said a February 15 cease-fire was on the right track, despite repeated breaches of the peace deal that have left hundreds dead.
The Russian foreign minister welcomed “tangible progress” in the implementation of the agreement reached in Minsk last month, saying “the cease-fire is being consolidated, heavy weapons are withdrawn.”
Kerry, meanwhile, said he was “very hopeful” that his talks with Lavrov would help bring about the change needed to end fighting. “Our hope is that within the next hours, and certainly not more than days, this (cease-fire) will be fully implemented,” he said.
Underlining this momentum, the Russian, Ukrainian, French and German leaders agreed to hold four-way telephone talks on the crisis Monday evening, the Interfax news agency quoted a Kremlin adviser as saying. But Kerry cautioned that there so far had been “a kind of cherry-picking, a piecemeal selectivity to the application of the Minsk agreements.”
The United Nations, meanwhile, cast a cloud on hopes raised by the talks with a report that painted a bleak picture of developments in the country. “More than 6,000 lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
In Brussels, three-way gas talks were also set to take place between the energy ministers of Ukraine and Russia, together with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.
Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom threatened last week to cut deliveries to Ukraine over a dispute related to Moscow’s move to supply gas directly to separatist areas and then demand that Kiev pay for it.
Rebel leaders in east Ukraine said that Kiev had suddenly ceased gas supplies, and asked for access to gas from Russia.