Rex Tillerson urges Moscow to take 'first step' to ease Ukraine conflict

Tammy Harvey
July 10, 2017

A summit of the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and the Russian Federation may take place as early as this summer, after a phone conversation in the Normandy Four format is held, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said.

Volker, who was the USA permanent representative to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in July 2008-May 2009, and is now the executive director at a DC-based think tank, the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, was appointed a special representative to Ukraine on Friday.

"It is necessary for Russian Federation to take the first step to de-escalate the situation in the east part of Ukraine", Tillerson said as he made his first visit as Washington's top diplomat to Kiev.

Poroshenko thanked Tillerson for the continued US commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During a short visit to Poland ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, this week - on the sidelines of which he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time - U.S. leader Donald Trump called on Russia to "cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere".

"The US and European Union sanctions on Russian Federation will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions", Tillerson said at a briefing after a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev.

The conflict, which has killed at least 10,000 people, as well as Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 have pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War. "We have to find a way to begin to address that, and it's not going to be only about Russian Federation, it's going to be about worldwide engagement as well". The Kremlin has denied backing the separatists.

Poroshenko hailed United States involvement and reiterated his commitment to seeking a negotiated peace deal.

Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, a longtime diplomat, will be responsible for advancing U.S. interests as set out in the 2015 Minsk agreement to curb the conflict in Ukraine's Donbass region.

The rhetoric is remarkably different from three months ago, when while at a G7 meeting in Italy Tillerson questioned why USA taxpayers should be interested in Ukraine.

"In all candidness we did not expect an answer other than the one we received", Tillerson told reporters Sunday in Kiev.

"Most of all we want peace in Ukraine".

He noted that Mr. Trump agreed with Putin on the cyber front, and that they are looking to explore ways to deal with cyber threats and cyber security.

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