German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said there was still no genuine ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, as she paid a visit to Moscow to commemorate millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians who died in WWII.
“Unfortunately we still do not have a ceasefire today,” Merkel said after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
She also paid tribute to those killed in the Second World War, speaking of a “historic responsibility” to remember the conflict.
“As Germany’s chancellor, I bow before the millions of victims caused by this war, which was started by Nazi Germany,” Merkel told a news conference in the Russian capital.
In recent months Merkel has played a key negotiation role over Ukraine, acting as a go-between for an isolated Kremlin and the West.
The German leader said that she was aware of many violations of the ceasefire by pro-Russian separatists, citing information from international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“We had hoped to have agreed a ceasefire… unfortunately the ceasefire did not come.”
She said that she and Putin discussed hot spots in the conflict including the village of Shyrokine and the Donetsk airport and the risk of the renewal of fighting.
In February, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande helped broker a peace deal for Ukraine in a last-ditch effort to stop months of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev forces.
– A ‘severe setback’ –
But Kiev and the insurgents accuse each of continuing to violate the ceasefire deal despite claims that they have withdrawn heavy weapons from the frontline in accordance with the agreement.
Merkel said the humanitarian situation remained dire, noting that a prisoner exchange was not yet complete, and urged the leaders must do all they can to improve the situation.
She stressed that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military actions in Ukraine caused a “severe setback” to cooperation between Russia and Germany and was “a violation of the basis of the common peaceful order of Europe.”
She said that despite disagreements, Russia and Germany must seek dialogue and a peaceful solution and make diplomatic efforts.
Putin for his part said he and Merkel did not see eye to eye on the Ukraine crisis but pointed to an improvement on the ground.
“Yes we significantly differ in our assessments of the events,” Putin said.
“In my view, there is every grounds to believe that with difficulties, but all the same the Minsk process is moving,” he said, referring to the peace deal.
– ‘ Ukraine has become calmer’ –
“Despite all the problems in eastern Ukraine it has become calmer.”
“As for grievances over fulfilment or non-fulfilment of the Minsk agreements, there are grievances on both sides.”
“I agree with the German Chancellor there’s no other alternative but to achieve fulfilment of all the Minsk pacts with the help of the instruments of the OSCE.”
However the Russian leader insisted that a peaceful solution was only possible through “direct dialogue between Kiev and Lugansk and Donetsk,” referring to the separatists’ self-proclaimed people’s republics.
Russia will “bring to bear all the influence we have on the leadership of Lugansk and Donetsk,” Putin pledged.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of masterminding the brutal separatist conflict in east Ukraine that has killed more than 6,100 people in just over a year.
Merkel was visiting Russia to pay tribute to Soviet soldiers killed in World War II.
She flew to Moscow to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin walls, in an apparent compromise gesture after she skipped Russia’s main ceremonies on Saturday.
“We will always remember that it was the peoples of the Soviet Union and the soldiers of the Red Army who suffered the largest number of victims.”
The German leader said that despite current disagreements between Russia and Germany, it was vital for Berlin to acknowledge its role in the war.
“We have a historical responsibility to keep remembering this and to learn from it. That is why even at a time of grave disagreementsâ€¦ it is important to honour this historical memory.”