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US welcomes ‘progress toward peace’ in Eastern Ukraine, calls on Russia to show ‘political will’

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv has welcomed “progress towards peace” in eastern Ukraine, two days after Kyiv, Moscow, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed to move forward with talks to find lasting peace in the Donbas.

In a statement posted on its Twitter account on October 3, the embassy called for the “reinstatement of Ukrainian control of its international border.”

It said that holding “free and fair elections” in the areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions requires “withdrawing Russia-led forces and illegal armed formations from Ukraine’s territory,” as well as “a secure environment.”

“Russia needs to display the political will to make this happen,” the embassy added.

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

Nearly 2 million people have been displaced, the largest internal migration of people on the European continent since World War II.

Four-way talks involving Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany — known as the Normandy format — are expected to resume in the near future for the first time in three years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on October 1 announced he was willing to give the Donbas region “special” self-governing status once elections are held in accordance with international standards and endorsed by the OSCE.

For that to happen, all armed formations must leave the area and Ukraine must regain control over its borders with Russia, Zelenskiy said.

Ukrainian political forces should be allowed to run in the elections, with international election monitors observing and Ukrainian media covering the vote, the president added in televised comments on October 3.

All internally displaced people should also be allowed to cast ballots, he said.

What’s not clear based on the provisional agreement brokered in Minsk on October 1 is the sequence of steps that will be taken to ensure elections in Ukraine’s east and the degree of autonomy the two Donbas regions will get — an issue that has led to protests in Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 3 that Zelenskiy would prove to be a strong politician if he succeeds in completing the peace process.

“The people are waiting for this issue to be resolved and if he musters enough political courage and strength to complete it, I think he will prove himself as an honest, strong politician capable of implementing the decisions that have been made,” Putin said at a conference organized by the Valdai Discussion Club think tank in Moscow.

Also on October 3, Denise Natali, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, arrived in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian officials.

Natali plans to meet with the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons Oksana Kolyada, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, and nongovernmental organizations “to discuss veteran reintegration support and the Donbas conflict,” the State Department said.Radio