MINSK, Belarus — The presidents of Russia and Ukraine met late Tuesday for their first bilateral talks at a much-anticipated summit in Minsk, which many voiced hopes may help bring an end to fighting between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko met in the Belarusian capital, the first such meeting between the countries’ heads of state since Ukraine’s pro-Russian ex-president was ousted from power in February, according to the Twitter account of the Ukrainian presidential administration. The meeting, which had not been previously announced by either side, was also confirmed by Kremlin.
The talks came as Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and shelling spread to a new front in the country’s southeast. Kiev and many Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and expertise to the rebels in east Ukraine, a charge Russia has denied.
While it is still unclear if the two leaders will find common ground and pave a way for peace in east Ukraine, the face-to-face meeting was a remarkable breakthrough for both sides.
Earlier, the two leaders sat on opposite sides of a large round table and were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke briefly to the press late on Tuesday and said talks between the leaders were “tough,” but stopped short of saying that they had failed.
“Sadly, the situation there (in Ukraine) has gone so far that in the absence of agreements in principle any steps or technical accords are not going to lead to settlement,” he said.
Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, Poroshenko said the purpose of his visit was to start searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine would be taken into account.
“The fate of peace and the fate of Europe are being decided in Minsk today,” the billionaire chocolate magnate said in his opening remarks.