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No alternative to diplomatic push in Ukraine

Decision by leaders to end the violence is welcome but will really count is what happens on the ground

Finally, some good news has come out of Ukraine. Reports that the American, Russian and Ukrainian presidents spoke face-to-face about ending violence in the eastern region of Ukraine should be welcomed.

This diplomatic turning point was played out last week during a meeting on the sidelines of an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied forces' D-Day landing on Normandy Beach in France.

According to a statement from Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko called for the "soonest end to bloodshed in southeastern Ukraine and combat by both parties, the Ukrainian armed forces and supporters of the federalisation of Ukraine".

Putin, who was not invited to the G-7 meeting that concluded in Brussels on Thursday, appears to have softened his tone. Previously, he had compared the outcome of the general election that put Poroshenko in power to a "coup".

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader and Poroshenko "confirmed that there is no alternative to settling the situation by peaceful political means".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to have been instrumental in bringing the two conflicting parties together. She speaks Russian and Putin speaks German.

While language skills may have helped, the decision to meet each half way to find a peaceful solution probably came from the realisation of the Ukrainian and Russian leaders that there isn't much to gain if the conflict continues.

In some ways, the diplomatic achievement reflects the fact that Ukraine does not belong to either Russia or Europe. Ukraine belongs to its people and the country can function as a bridge between Russia and Europe.Forcing the country to come under one's sphere of influence may not serve the interests of the people of Ukraine.

Moreover, forcing Ukraine to take up the zero-sum option could pave the way for a new Cold War between the West and Russia. Putin himself stated that a new Cold War would not serve anybody's interest.

But while there is progress on the diplomatic front, what really counts is what takes place on the ground. Unconfirmed reports from Ukrainian officials said more than more than 200 people had died in fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

Moscow did the right thing by ignoring the separatists' request to join Russia. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. The US and the European Union responded by imposing limited sanctions.

With growth falling from 2.5 per cent last year to a forecast 0.2 per cent this year, not to mention that the country's stock market has fallen 20 per cent in 2014, Russia definitely doesn't need a diplomatic headache with the West.

The international community needs to throw its support behind Poroshenko to ensure that peace and stability return to his country. An unstable Ukraine is not good for Russia or the West.

Poroshenko said his top priority would be establishing a comprehensive plan to end the hostilities.

Prior to the presidential election, Poroshenko visited the troubled eastern region to urge the people not to vote for separation. He is planning to visit the region again in the coming weeks, possibly with the same message of peace and reconciliation. For the sake of us all, and for the sake of Ukraine, we can only hope that he succeeds.


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