Germany: Russia sanctions to continue despite Ukraine peace talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin engaging in peace talks with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris on Monday was unlikely to result in a lifting of sanctions, according to Germany’s top diplomat.

The European Union was poised to renew its sanctions, imposed against Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, later this week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels ahead of a meeting with EU counterparts.

“So far I see no reason to change anything about this decision,” Maas said. Resolving the Ukraine crisis would be a “precondition for the relationship between the EU and Russia to improve.”

Monday’s summit, with brokering by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, was to shore up progress made in recent weeks, in part due to Zelensky’s efforts to withdraw troops and heavy artillery from the front lines.

Russian-supported separatists and the Ukrainian military have been fighting for more than five years in a pair of regions near the Russian border, collectively known as the Donetsk Basin or Donbass.

The rebellion against the Ukrainian state erupted following Kiev’s 2014 ouster of its pro-Russian president in a political pivot towards the West, away from Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.

While Putin represents the rebels in international peace talks, his government has repeatedly denied allegations of direct involvement in the conflict.

Ukraine accuses Russia of waging war on its territory. About 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.

Several hundred people protested outside Zelensky’s office in Kiev on Monday, demanding that Zelensky not compromise with Putin to give up territory in the war-torn regions.

Zelensky, inaugurated earlier this year, has made resolving the festering conflict his top priority and reached out to Putin for the renewed peace effort. Previous ceasefire agreements have largely failed.

Suspected Russian state involvement in the murder of a Georgian man in Berlin has cast a shadow over the summit. Last week, after allegations that Russian authorities had not sufficiently cooperated with the investigation, Germany announced that it was expelling two Russian diplomats.

Separate to the summit, Russia announced that it had given citizenship to 125,000 people from rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine this year, under a law signed by Putin.

Ukraine has expressed dampened expectations of any major breakthrough happening in Paris. Almost no progress has been made since the last such summit three years ago, Zelensky’s spokeswoman, Iuliia Mendel, wrote on Facebook.

“The war in Donbass,” she said, “will not end on December 10.”

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