MUNICH, Germany: Western leaders challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to prove he wants peace in Ukraine, warning both sides a new Franco-German peace drive may be a “last chance” to stop all-out war.
In a dramatic gesture at a gathering of world leaders in Germany, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko brandished passports and military ID cards he said were seized from Russian soldiers deep inside his territory, offering what he said was “evidence” of Russia’s presence in the country.
“Today a former strategic partner is waging a hidden war against a sovereign state,” he said at the Munich Security Conference.
Poroshenko was due on Sunday to discuss the last-ditch peace bid in a phone call with German, French and Russian leaders, as fresh fighting in the former Soviet republic claimed 12 more lives, and Kiev warned the Russian-backed separatists were planning a new offensive.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel set the conference agenda in Munich as she championed the peace plan that she and French President Francois Hollande took to Putin in Moscow late on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
“It is uncertain whether it will lead to success, but from my point of view and that of the French president it is definitely worth trying,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told national television the fate of the join European push would be known in “two or three days.”
US Vice President Joe Biden voiced both support for the peace plan and skepticism, saying: “Given Russia’s recent history, we need to judge its deeds not its words. Don’t tell us, show us, President Putin!”
‘Allow Ukraine to defend itself’
A senior State Department official said the plan is based on a widely flouted ceasefire deal reached in Minsk in September, but they admitted the initiative was still “very much in flux and evolution.”
Hollande told French TV station France 2 that the proposal includes the creation of a 50- to 70-kilometer (31- to 43-mile) demilitarized zone based around the current frontline.
But this idea appeared to face opposition from the Ukrainian president, who has lost territory to the rebels since the Minsk deal. “There is only one line, and that’s the line from the Minsk agreement,” Poroshenko said.
Hollande said the stakes could not be higher, warning that the renewed peace plan was “one of the last chances” to halt the 10-month-old conflict.
“If we fail to find a lasting peace agreement, we know the scenario perfectly well — it has a name, it is called war,” he added.