Merkel and Ukrainian leader discuss peace efforts, gas pipeline

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to push forward stalled peace efforts for eastern Ukraine on Sunday and underlined Germany’s pledge not to let Russia use a new gas pipeline as a “weapon” as she made what is likely her last visit to Ukraine at the helm of Germany.

Merkel’s trip came two days after she traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chancellor is not running in Germany’s national elections next month and is nearing the end of her almost 16 years as head of Germany.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday, Merkel called for working to secure a leaders’ meeting between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on the situation in the is from Ukraine, the first since late 2019.

“In my opinion, that would bring us progress, if we can develop a good program – our advisers should do that,” she said. “I am happy that President Zelenskyy is ready to do this. ”

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels has claimed more than 14,000 lives since 2014. Germany and France have worked to help negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict, including a cease-fire agreement. 2015 often violated fire concluded in Minsk, Belarus.

Zelenskyy said Kiev is seeking a permanent ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, an exchange of prisoners, open crossings on the contact line and to ensure Red Cross access to the area of conflict. He supported the idea of ​​a meeting, but urged Kiev’s western partners to put pressure on Russia to make progress in eastern Ukraine.

“As long as there is no progress, the pressure on Russia must continue. We want to see active efforts from our Western partners, ”Zelenskyy said.

Merkel noted that some of the goals Zelenskyy named, such as “opening new crossings on the contact line or other humanitarian issues, have yet to be implemented, making the process considerably cumbersome.”

“However, it has to be said over and over again: that at the moment we don’t have any other format in which we can discuss these things, and therefore the work has to be continued here,” Merkel said.

She added that she expects the next German government to “work in the same spirit” with Ukraine, pushing the country to regain its territorial integrity and allowing it to continue its internal reforms.

The Chancellor also spoke of the merits of a US-German deal last month to allow the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany without imposing US sanctions on German entities.

Ukraine opposes the project and Zelenskyy on Sunday called it Russia’s geopolitical “weapon”.

“I think it is a weapon and it is wrong not to see it as a weapon,” he said. “The launch will entail great risks and will play into Russia’s game. “

Merkel said she saw the German-US deal “as a commitment by the German government to ward off President Zelenskyy’s concern, namely the use of energy as a weapon”. She said she takes this concern very seriously and highlighted Germany’s appointment of a negotiator to help secure an extension of an agreement for gas transit through Ukraine beyond 2024.

“It calls on future German governments to tackle this issue of energy security” as well as Germany’s commitment to help renew Ukraine’s energy mix, said Merkel.

She also assured that Berlin “will advocate new sanctions within the European framework if this suspicion is proven that the pipeline is used as a weapon”.

Zelenskyy, in turn, said that Kiev has entered into consultations with the European Parliament and the German government regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He added that the Energy Ministers of the United States, Germany and Ukraine will meet Monday in Kiev.

The two leaders did not announce any breakthrough deals on Sunday, but it was no surprise, said Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based political analyst.

“There were no great expectations from Merkel’s visit,” Fesenko, head of the Penta Center think tank, told The Associated Press. “In a farewell handshake, the Chancellor tried to mitigate the unpleasant consequences that the agreements between Berlin and Moscow would have for Ukraine. At least sweeten in the words.

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Moulson reported from Berlin.

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