Ukraine conflict: Vladimir Putin says Russia will not wage war on anyone
Demilitarized zone proposed as Ukraine peace talks continue
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday Russia did not plan to wage war on anyone, although a world order where one leader tells others what they can do would not suit Moscow.
His comments were the first from Putin since he met French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the crisis in the Ukraine on Friday.
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"There clearly is an attempt to restrain our development with different means. There is an attempt to freeze the existing world order ... with one incontestable leader who wants to remain as such thinking he is allowed everything while others are only allowed what he allows and only in his interests," Putin said.
"This world order will never suit Russia But we are not going to wage war on anyone, we are going to cooperate with all," he said during a meeting with labour unions in the southern city of Sochi.
Ukraine's president is pushing for both a quick cease-fire in his country's troubled east and defensive weapons from the West, as mediators sought momentum Saturday for a deal to stem the fighting at Europe's edge.
Petro Poroshenko and Putin are to confer with the German and French leaders by phone Sunday in an effort to overcome months of setbacks and suspicion and breathe new life into a much-violated September peace plan. But even those who had scheduled the call were cautious about its prospects.
Merkel — who along with Hollande travelled to Kyiv on Thursday and Moscow on Friday — acknowledged disillusionment over the failure of previous agreements to stick and said "there are no theoretical guarantees" that a new one would either.
Western anxiety over the conflict is growing and sanctions are taking a toll on Russia's economy. More than 5,300 people have been killed since fighting began in April, according to a UN tally, and the bloodshed has markedly increased over the past two weeks.
These people have gone to war. It will be difficult to make them share a common life.- French President Francois Hollande
The resurgent fighting has prompted the U.S. to consider giving lethal weapons to Ukraine, an option opposed by European nations which fear the move would merely exacerbate the situation.
"I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily," Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference. "I have to put it that bluntly."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who also attended the Munich conference, stopped short of explicitly addressing possible arms deliveries. "We will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself," he said.
Russia's most immediate goal is likely the lifting of some of the Western sanctions which, in concert with plunging oil prices, have driven the Russian economy into a parlous state — or at least to fend off the imposition of further sanctions. In the longer game, Russia has pushed for so-called "federalization" of Ukraine that would give broad powers to its provinces and allow them to deal directly with Moscow.
Russia also wants to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Although Ukraine dropped its nonalignment policy last year, the Western alliance would be unlikely to accept Ukraine anytime soon because of its unstable politics and endemic corruption.
Conflict must be resolved, not frozen: Hollande
France's president said a new peace deal could feature a broad demilitarized zone and greater autonomy for Ukraine's separatist eastern region. "These people have gone to war," Francois Hollande said. "It will be difficult to make them share a common life."
While Germany and France are facilitating talks, "the important decisions must be made in Moscow and Kyiv," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Poroshenko told the Munich conference that Ukraine stands ready for a "comprehensive and immediate cease-fire" and Russia should be too.
He indicated he wanted no peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, saying they wouldn't be needed if foreign fighters withdrew and the Ukraine-Russia border was sealed. Then, he said, there would be "peace and stability in Ukraine ... within a couple of weeks."
"There is no temporary solution — this conflict must be resolved, not frozen," he said, alluding to long-time conflicts involving breakaway regions in Georgia and Moldova.
Russia hopes for results
Later, Poroshenko suggested the Ukrainian side could be flexible on certain issues. He said he was open to discussing the size and contours of a proposed buffer zone separating the combatants, and was prepared to put the question of federalization to a referendum.
Merkel said it is uncertain whether the talks will succeed, "but it is, from my point of view and that of the French president, in any case worth making this attempt."
Biden agreed that an attempt was worthwhile but said Russia must be judged by its actions, "not by the paper they signed."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said he hoped for results.
As soon as Kyiv and eastern Ukrainian separatists agree on practical details of implementing the Minsk deal, "I am sure that Russia will be among those parties that will guarantee the implementation of this agreement," Lavrov told the conference. "But you can only guarantee what has already been achieved."
The United States and other Western countries contend Russia has supplied troops and equipment to the separatists in eastern Ukraine who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since April. Russia denies the claims.
With files from Reuters