MOSCOW: Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko will meet with US President Barack Obama on Thursday, amid hopes Kiev’s conflict with pro-Russian rebels may end after Moscow hailed an offer of self-rule for the separatists.
The autonomy offer was drawn up under a peace plan backed by both Kiev and Moscow 12 days ago that has eased—but not halted — deadly violence around insurgent strongholds in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow, echoing comments by both Washington and the European Union, said it was a “step in the right direction” toward ending a conflict that has killed almost 2,900 people and sent East-West tensions spiralling.
“All of this lays the foundation for the launch of a substantial constitutional process in Ukraine including the start of dialogue with a view to facilitating national reconciliation and agreement in the country,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Ukraine’s lawmakers unanimously approved the “regional status” law on Tuesday just moments before ratifying a landmark European Union pact that steers Ukraine away from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Poroshenko will cast Russia as a global menace on Thursday when he meets Obama in Washington, in the hope of winning a “special status” guaranteeing his troubled nation’s security.
It is the pro-West president’s first tour of the White House since his May election.
Yet Obama has been saddled with too many simultaneous crises to draw the United States into a military standoff with a nuclear-armed Russia over a country with which it is sympathetic but is not part of its strategic concerns.
“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” Obama told US television just days after Russia completed its annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March.|
The United States has approved shipments of non-lethal equipment such as night vision goggles and bullet proof vests—a welcome but limited addition to Ukraine’s drastically underfunded and outdated fighting force.
Ukraine’s peace overture to the rebels appears to fit with what analysts see as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of splintering the country to create a Russian-speaking zone that would depend more on Moscow than Kiev.
Nationalist leaders have already accused Poroshenko of capitulating in the face of Russian “aggression” that suddenly turned the tide against Ukrainian forces last month.
Deadly fighting erupted again on Wednesday around the flashpoint city of Donetsk, scene of almost daily shelling despite the ceasefire deal signed on September 5.
Donetsk city hall said two civilians were killed near a market that lies just a few kilometers away from the airport frontline and was left in ruins by another bout of deadly shelling earlier this week.
Nevertheless Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking during a visit to Addis Ababa, said “the ceasefire is holding.”