Talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in Turkey have produced one significant step forward: Kiev giving up on Crimea and the Donbass, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday, during a visit to China.
“I consider it significant progress that the Ukrainian negotiators confirmed the need to ensure a non-nuclear, non-aligned status of Ukraine and its security outside the framework of NATO, as well as the Ukrainian colleagues’ understanding that the issues of Crimea and the Donbass have been permanently resolved,” Lavrov told reporters in Tunxi.
Lavrov is in China for a conference on Afghanistan, hosted by his Chinese colleague Wang Yi. The foreign ministers of Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were also in attendance, along with observers from Indonesia and Qatar.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko disagreed with Lavrov’s statement, however, saying the Russian diplomat “demonstrates a misunderstanding of the negotiation process.”
“The issues of Crimea and Donbas will be settled for good after Ukraine restores its sovereignty over them,” Nikolenko tweeted. “During the talks in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation presented its proposals on how to achieve this goal.”
Monday’s peace talks in Istanbul saw Kiev commit for the first time in writing to several key points Russia insisted on for good-neighborly relations, namely foregoing NATO membership and nuclear weapons, according to chief Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky.
While Ukraine did not outrightly recognize the independence of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, and Crimea’s 2014 decision to rejoin Russia, Medinsky said that Kiev was willing to negotiate on those points. The Kremlin later said that Crimea’s status is not a subject of negotiations at all since it’s a region of Russia.
All three regions seceded from Ukraine following the February 2014 coup by US-backed nationalists in Kiev. Crimea voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia, while the Donetsk and Lugansk regions declared independence. Moscow recognized the Donbass republics in February, citing Kiev’s refusal to implement the Minsk agreements brokered by France and Germany in 2015.
The two republics then signed mutual assistance treaties with Moscow and invoked them to seek military aid. Within days, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine to “demilitarize and denazify” the government in Kiev. Ukraine insists that the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.