August 22, 2014 / 1:09 PM / 5 years ago

Germany cautions Ukraine on reforms before Merkel visit

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government expressed concern about the pace of reform in Ukraine on the eve of a visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying Berlin was considering offering additional aid to rebuild the country but that Kiev needed to deliver on promised changes.

Merkel is due to travel to Ukraine on Saturday, her first trip there since the country’s crisis erupted roughly half a year ago, triggering the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Her spokesman described the trip as a “signal of support” for President Petro Poroshenko and said the German leader’s main goal was to help bring about a ceasefire between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists battling in the east.

“On top of that, there will also be a discussion about more concrete forms of support” to rebuild the country, Seibert said, adding that this would go beyond previously agreed aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Seibert was not asked about news, only just breaking as the briefing began, of Russian aid trucks crossing the border into Ukraine without Kiev’s permission

Berlin expressed concern about Kiev’s reform drive, pointing to recent resignations of top officials, including Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta and the government’s anti-corruption chief Tetyana Chornovol.

“We have noticed, with some concern, in recent days that two senior politicians have resigned from their posts. The reason they gave was that their attempts to see through comprehensive reforms in Kiev, of Ukrainian society and of the economy, could not succeed as they had hoped,” said Martin Schaefer, a spokesman for the foreign ministry.

“We have a great interest in helping Ukraine, but we also expect that Ukraine delivers what they have promised us and the international community, even if there is resistance in some quarters,” he added.

Kiev must implement a wide range of economic reforms as part of a $17 billion IMF loan package, but has had to divert substantial funds to its fight against the pro-Russian insurgency.

The economy contracted by 4.7 percent in the second quarter of this year and the government has accused separatists of trying to do additional economic damage by attacking mines, power stations, railways and bridges in the industrial east.

Seibert said an agreement on better border controls was the main hurdle to a ceasefire and reiterated a long-standing demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin use his influence to prevent the smuggling of arms into Ukraine.

The spokesman said Germany continued to believe that the conflict could not be solved by military means. Sources told Reuters on Thursday that Merkel would press Poroshenko during her visit to exercise restraint in Kiev’s battle with pro-Russian rebels, in part out of concern that Putin could retaliate if the separatists were crushed.

Reporting by Noah Barkin; editing by Ralph Boulton

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