Key sticking points in Ukraine peace talks: borders/buffers
MOSCOW (AP) Significant differences remain between Ukraine and Russia as their leaders gather for crucial talks that aim to end the fighting between the Russian-backed separatists and government forces that has torn up eastern Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who are brokering Wednesday's talks in Minsk, Belarus, hope for a comprehensive peace deal based on a much-violated September truce.
Here's a glance at the main sticking points at the talks:
WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?
Ukraine says a new cease-fire deal must respect a division line agreed upon between the warring parties in September's peace agreement. Russia, however, wants to move that line back to include the significant territorial gains the rebels have made since then.
While the original Minsk agreement envisaged that each party pulls heavy artillery back 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the line of division, Hollande says the plan under negotiation would see a 50- to 70-kilometer (31- to 44-mile) demilitarized zone.
THE WITHDRAWAL OF FIGHTERS AND WEAPONS
Ukraine's key demand is that Russia withdraws its troops and weapons from the country. Ukraine and the West say Russia has fueled the insurgency with soldiers and equipment and accused it of breaching the original Minsk agreement that envisaged the pullout of foreign fighters.
Moscow denies the accusations and insists that the Russians fighting alongside the rebels are volunteers. The sheer number of sophisticated heavy weapons in the rebel hands belies that denial, however.
WHO CONTROLS THE BORDER?
Ukraine is demanding that it gets back control over its border with Russia and that rebels hand back border posts they have captured. It also wants the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the border to stem the flow of Russian troops and weapons.
Russia has allowed OSCE monitors at two border checkpoints, but said the OSCE needs to talk to the rebels to monitor other sections of the border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Wednesday that border controls could only be fully restored after Ukraine gives a broad autonomy to the east, grants amnesty to the rebels and ends its financial blockade of rebel-controlled areas.
UKRAINE'S ASPIRATIONS TO JOIN NATO
Russian President Vladimir Putin's fears that Ukraine will eventually join NATO triggered the current crisis and he will keep urging the West to guarantee that Ukraine will not become part of the military alliance.
The West says Ukraine has a sovereign right to determine its own future. Concessions on the subject are unlikely since the Ukrainian parliament dropped the nation's non-aligned status last month.
AUTONOMY FOR REBEL AREAS
The exact measure of autonomy for Ukraine's rebellious east is a major sticking point in the talks.
Russia has demanded that the Ukrainian government approve a wide autonomy for the separatist eastern regions, hoping that would allow Moscow to preserve leverage over its neighbor and prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
Shortly after September's peace deal, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law offering broad rights to the rebel-controlled territories, including local elections under the Ukrainian law and the ability to form their own police force. But the rebels rejected the law as inadequate and went ahead with their own local elections that Ukraine and the West dismissed as a sham.
Russia has talked about the potential deployment of international peacekeepers to monitor the cease-fire, while Ukraine has remained cautious about the idea. Russia appears to want a peacekeeping contingent that includes soldiers from Moscow-friendly ex-Soviet nations like Kazakhstan, Belarus or Azerbaijan something Ukraine reportedly opposes.