PARIS – The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France agreed Thursday that elections should be held in eastern Ukraine by the end of July, France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault said.
“We underlined the importance of adopting an electoral law to hold local elections by the end of the first half of 2016,” Ayrault said at the close of a meeting in Paris with his three counterparts.
But the Ukrainian and German foreign ministers played down this latest stage in the protracted negotiations, with both complaining about the lack of progress made.
“We must be able to ensure these elections are organized safely, we need our territory to be secure,” Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin said.
Kiev has long insisted there must be a total cessation of hostilities in the country’s restive east before holding the polls.
“I am not satisfied by the way in which Kiev and Moscow have been leading these negotiations,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, while his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, left the meeting without talking to the press.
The four chief diplomats called for “the release and exchange of all prisoners and people held in illegal detention between now and April 30,” Ayrault said.
The meeting was part of the implementation of the Minsk accord, which was signed in February 2015 with French and German mediation and in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The accord calls for a cease-fire along with a range of political, economic and social measures to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 9,000 lives since it began in early 2014.
Although violence has greatly diminished, there has been scant progress on other aspects of the accord in recent months.
During a visit to Ukraine last month, the French and German foreign ministers called on the government to pursue the reforms necessary to allow local elections in the east.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of militarily supporting the separatist rebels in order to undermine stability in the country, which Moscow denies.