Ukraine peace summit scratched after diplomacy fails to break impasse

Berlin gathering on Ukraine conflict fails to make progress; leaders scrap planned Thursday summit

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine failed to make progress at a meeting in Berlin on Monday night with their counterparts from France and Germany, prompting cancellation of a four-party peace summit that had been planned for Thursday in Kazakhstan.

As fighting has flared anew in eastern Ukraine after a brief lull over the holidays and European diplomats have been distracted by recent terrorist strikes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned over the weekend that the two sides in the Ukraine conflict needed to demonstrate their willingness to resolve their differences through negotiation.

But at a Monday night gathering in Berlin at the invitation of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his counterparts from Russia and Ukraine failed to make sufficient progress to justify the four countries' leaders traveling to Astana, Kazakhstan, for a summit with little prospect of success.

"Hopes have collapsed for a crisis summit in the Ukraine conflict in the Kazakh city of Astana," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich reported. It cited a statement by the four foreign ministers that they were unable to get the Ukrainian and Russian officials to commit to the conditions of a Sept. 5 cease-fire.

That tentative truce signed by both sides as well as separatist rebels at a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, was supposed to be followed by a full exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of heavy weaponry, delineation of the front lines and a complete cessation of hostilities to allow negotiation on a permanent settlement.

With those conditions still unfulfilled and gunfire and artillery exchanges accelerating, there are no grounds to expect a positive outcome at another meeting, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told journalists after the four-hour Berlin meeting.

Instead, Steinmeier told journalists, working-level diplomats from the four countries will continue to meet and discuss the unresolved "core problems" and report to the foreign ministers if any progress is made.

Fighting over territory in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists broke out after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea territory March 18. That land grab ignited international protest for its violation of postwar treaties recognizing national boundaries.

More than 4,700 have died in the conflict area since April. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of arming and instigating the separatists. Russia denies it is involved, calling the violence a civil war spurred by the threat of Ukrainian repression of the country's Russian-speaking minority.

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