Russia Shrugs Off Ukraine's Call to Get Back Control of its Border

A push by Ukraine to revise a 2015 peace deal with Russia was rebuffed on Wednesday by Russia's foreign minister, signaling a lack of will to normalize ties with Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Russia on Tuesday for a modification of the 2015 deal and invited other countries to help resolve stalled peace talks on a political settlement in eastern Ukraine. Conflict broke out between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in Donbas, the center of Ukrainian industry, after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

In the seven years since fighting began, more than 14,000 have been killed in conflict. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a warning to Ukraine not to overstep on the peace deal and lambasted the West for ignoring the failure of Ukraine to meet certain obligations under the 2015 document signed in Minsk, Belarus, by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

"The West either can't or doesn't want to encourage compliance with the Minsk agreement," Lavrov said on Russian state TV.

In recent weeks, increasing violations of a shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine a Russian troop buildup across the border drew Ukrainian and Western concerns about the potential for large-scale hostilities. Tensions eased last week after Moscow announced a pullback of its forces following massive drills.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia Shrugs Off Ukraine's Border Call
A push by Ukraine to revise a 2015 peace deal with Russia was rebuffed on Wednesday by Russia's foreign minister. Above, a Ukrainian serviceman keeps watch at a position on the front line with Russia-backed separatists, not far from Gorlivka, Donetsk region, on April 27, 2021. Getty Images/Anatolii STEPANOV

The 2015 deal, which was brokered by France and Germany, marked a diplomatic coup for Russia, obliging Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and amnesty for the rebels. It also stipulated that Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-held territories only after the election of local leaders and legislatures, the provisions resented by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatist rebels in the east with troops and weapons, claims Moscow has denied. The Kremlin has insisted that Russia isn't a party to what it described as an internal Ukrainian conflict.

Lavrov categorically rejected the push by Ukrainian officials to reverse the sequence of steps stipulated by the Minsk deal and to make reclaiming control of the border with Russia in the rebel-controlled regions the first step.

"Control of the border is the very last move that comes only after those territories get a special status fixed in the Ukrainian Constitution and hold free elections acknowledged as such by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," the Russian minister said. "I believe that we mustn't let Mr. Zelenskyy and his team get off the hook, even though they are trying hard to wriggle out."

Zelenskyy has pushed for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Russian leader responded last week that Ukrainian authorities need to speak to the rebels to settle the conflict in Donbas. He added that if the Ukrainian president wants to discuss the normalization of ties with Russia, he's welcome to come to Moscow.

Russia Shrugs Off Ukraine's Border Call
A push by Ukraine to revise a 2015 peace deal with Russia was rebuffed on Wednesday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Above, Lavrov speaks during his talks with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard in Moscow, Russia, April 28, 2021. Pool via AP/Yuri Kochetkov