France and Germany will attend a planned meeting this month with Ukraine and Russia only if there is the possibility of progress in Ukraine between the government and pro-Russian separatists, the countries’ leaders said Monday, according to Reuters. The talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, were proposed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a bid to put the nearly yearlong armed conflict to rest.
“I will go to Astana on the 15th of January on one condition, which is that there should be a possibility of making new progress,” said French President François Hollande. “If it's just to meet and talk without making any actual advances, then there's no point. But I think there will be progress.”
It is not clear if Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s participation is a necessary condition for the Astana meetings to go forward. Merkel’s office echoed Hollande’s statement, saying that “such a meeting only makes sense if we can make real progress.”
Poroshenko initiated plans for talks just before New Year's Day and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed to act as a mediator. Nazarbayev traveled to Moscow and Kiev to set up meetings for Jan. 15-16. His press service said last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin was interested in the meeting, according to ITAR-TASS. High-level diplomats from the four countries met on Monday in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk will meet on Thursday, along with their respective finance ministers.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Russian media on Monday that the Berlin meetings were “purely practical” and that Russia’s main objective is “the implementation of the Minsk Accords,” a set of agreements inked in September to end fighting between the warring parties. While a cease-fire is technically in place in Ukraine, sporadic fighting continues between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. There have also been some fracturing within rebel groups: A prominent rebel commander, nicknamed Batman, was killed over the weekend when a separatist “security” group tried to arrest him, according to the Associated Press.