Berlin (dpa) – Germany will continue to stand by Ukraine with respect to its territorial integrity, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin on Friday after holding talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.The chancellor came out in favour of pursuing diplomatic contacts in the so-called Normandy Format over the conflict in the east of the country, where pro-Russian separatists have seized control. These talks draw in France and Germany, as well as Ukraine and Russia, and were set up in 2014. “I believe we should continue to work in this format,” Merkel said, while acknowledging the “difficult conditions” in pursuing the dialogue. Poroshenko said he was prepared to call a summit of the Normandy group immediately after the April 21 elections. He is facing a run-off against Volodymyr Zelensky, a television comedian and political novice.
Merkel has been criticized for meeting Poroshenko, although not Zelensky. With respect to the Minsk peace process, Merkel noted that a stable ceasefire had still not been achieved, even if there had been some reduction in the fighting. She called for the release by Moscow of 24 Ukrainian sailors seized when passing from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait to the Sea of Azov. Raising a point of conflict between Ukraine and Germany, Poroshenko renewed his call for construction on a second Baltic gas pipeline between Russia and Germany to be halted. Merkel responded by saying that Germany would continue to push for Ukraine to continue to be a transit country for Russian gas to the European Union. Nordstream 2, which would double the capacity of the current undersea pipeline, has come under sharp criticism from Washington for increasing German energy dependence on Russia. Poland and Hungary have also expressed opposition, while Ukraine fears it could lose lucrative transit rights. After Berlin, Poroshenko was to travel to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is also to meet Poroshenko’s rival, Zelensky. Zelensky, a 41-year-old famous for playing a fictional president in a popular television show, trounced Poroshenko in the first round of elections on March 31 and is predicted to win the run-off by a landslide.