Low expectations for Ukraine Russia peace talks


Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 01/09/2014

Reporter: Emma Alberici

Europe correspondent Philip Williams reports on the latest developments in Ukraine.

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Joining us from London with the latest news about Ukraine is our Europe correspondent, Philip Williams.

Phillip, who exactly is now in control of Luhansk Airport?

PHILIP WILLIAMS, EUROPE CORRESPONDENT: Well that’s a good question. But the announcement from the Ukrainians that they were withdrawing basically means that whether they have actually done that or not, the forces, the pro-rebel forces are about to or already have complete control of that airport. That’s a big blow, it’s another blow in a series of setbacks for the Ukrainian forces that stretch all the way from Luhansk to Donetsk and down to the Sea of Azov, where the pro-rebels – pro – the rebels are pushing towards Mariupol, the key port town of Mariupol. So on all fronts at the moment, the Ukrainians are on the back foot.

EMMA ALBERICI: NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has again been talking to the media tonight. What realistically can NATO do to confront Russian aggression in Ukraine?

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Well it’s rather limited in the sense that if you’re in the club, you get the protection of everyone, but they’re not in the club, the Ukrainians are not in that club. They may well try and push to be part of that, and in fact, Rasmussen said just a few moments ago that he understood that the Ukrainians would be pushing something through Parliament so that they – which removed their non-aligned status and that could be a precursor – that’s seen as a precursor to the application for NATO membership. But for NATO, there are dangers there. Do they necessarily want to admit a new member at this perilous time? That would automatically trigger a response from NATO members against the largest military bloc in the world, or one of the largest. So, it’s a dangerous balancing act that’s being considered now by NATO. They’ve got their major conference later in this week. I’d expect something concrete coming out of that conference, whether that is perhaps beyond mere moral support, we’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps they could possibly offer some armaments to the Ukrainians, but they are very, very careful about exactly how far they go in what is a very, very dangerous situation.

EMMA ALBERICI: What do both sides of the conflict, Ukraine and Russia, hope to achieve at the peace talks at Minsk?

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Well, the Russians have said there’s nothing short of an immediate unconditional ceasefire. The Ukrainians say they want the Russians out – the Russians of course say they’re not in there – and they want all the support from Russia for the rebels to be ended. Now, both sides are highly unlikely to get what they want. Whether there is a compromise there is going to be very hard to see. Because from the Ukrainian point of view, this reversal of fortunes militarily is due entirely to Russian troops, Russian materials. Of course, the Russians say those people don’t exist, those trucks and all the tanks, etc. have been sourced by the rebels within – somehow within the Ukrainian area that they occupy. So, there’s very little area you can see for negotiations.

From the rebel of point of view, there’ve been two very different messages coming out of their camp today. One is, yes, we are going to insist still on full independence, and another message coming from another area saying, “No, we’ll look at some sort of federal association with Ukraine and we could possibly stay within Ukraine, but have a lot of independence.” So, really, there’s an inconsistency there. So you’ve got three very different disparate desires there, but at the core of it, the Russia versus the interests of Ukraine – that hasn’t changed, it’s just a question of how that washes out in these peace talks. I would have fairly low expectations, low hopes for any significant progress there today.

EMMA ALBERICI: Philip Williams in London, we’ll be talking about this for some time to come, I suspect. Thank you very much.


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