Germany urges Russia and Ukraine to ease tension over Crimea, keep talking

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Germany’s foreign minister urged Russia and Ukraine on Monday to reduce tensions over Crimea and stick to the troubled Minsk peace accords as a way of ending hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends a news conference after a meeting on the Syria crisis at the Quai d'Orsay ministry in Paris, France, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/File Photo

The minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said he was worried about rising tensions between Moscow and Kiev after President Vladimir Putin last week accused Ukraine of using terrorist tactics to try to provoke a new conflict over annexed Crimea. Ukraine flatly denied this.

Putin said at the time that there was no point in holding a new round of talks about the troubled peace process in eastern Ukraine on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China next month, stoking speculation Moscow might be preparing to abandon the Minsk process.

But Steinmeier, at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the city of Yekaterinburg, said that even though the Minsk deal had stalled in places it should remain the focus of the peace process despite the alleged plot around Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“In recent days there has been a spike in tensions around Crimea and that has worried us,” said Steinmeier, in comments translated from German into Russian by state TV.

“The main thing is that the situation doesn’t get out of control. We call on everyone to de-escalate.”

Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of not honoring its obligations under the Minsk peace accords. Ukraine says Moscow is the one stirring trouble in eastern Ukraine by backing pro-Russian separatists there. Moscow denies this.

Lavrov said Russia would play its part in ensuring the Minsk accords were honored.

“We analyzed the prospects for a possible revival of talks in the Normandy format,” Lavrov said, referring to negotiations around the Minsk deal which Putin has said were not worth having for the time being.

“I don’t think we’re now in a situation when someone is interested in cutting diplomatic ties (between Russia and Ukraine),” said Lavrov. “That’s an extreme measure and it seems to me that the main thing is not to give into emotions or extreme scenarios, but to act with restraint and focus on stabilizing the situation.”

Lavrov made clear Russia was not ready to drop allegations that it had caught Ukrainian saboteurs planning a bombing campaign against Crimea.

“We have additional material to what has been shown on TV, incontrovertible evidence that it was sabotage, long planned by Ukrainian military intelligence, to destabilize Russian Crimea,” said Lavrov.

“We’re ready to present these additional facts ... to our Western partners who are seriously interested in such things not being repeated.”

Additional reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Richard Balmforth