Ukraine's foreign minister said on Thursday there had been no breakthrough in Paris talks aimed at getting a fragile peace deal back on track, repeating that until security was restored there could be no election in the rebel-held Donbass region.
For months, as progress in implementing the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine has stalled, its architects, Germany and France, have held out hope that with time and carefully calibrated pressure on Ukraine and Russia the deal could be pushed back on track.
But since a joint visit by the German and French foreign ministers to Ukraine's capital last week, a gloomier view has taken hold: that political dysfunction in Kiev has all but doomed the chances of it delivering on its own commitments under the peace agreement.
Against that backdrop and a rise in ceasefire violations in the east, where Ukrainian government forces are faced off against pro-Russian rebels, the ministers met in Paris.
After more than four hours of talks, described as "frank, direct and without holding back" by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, little progress appeared to have been made.
"No, I don't have that impression," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told Reuters when asked if there had been a breakthrough.
His Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov had left the talks minutes earlier declining to comment.
One of the meeting's main goals was to tackle what is now seen in many European capitals as the biggest hurdle to the peace deal - Kiev's failure to push through an election law for the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine that would set the stage for a vote there by mid-year.
"The point I made specially is the necessity of providing security in the run-up to the future elections. Security first. Without security we can't deliver on anything further," Klimkin said.
Ayrault reiterated the hope of the four ministers to hold the elections by the end of June. He also sought to show there was some momentum on commitments to finally withdraw heavy weapons, abide by the ceasefire and give full access to monitors from the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe.
European officials have said the goal is to keep Minsk on life support even if it looks dead. They fear that if they were to breakdown completely violence could spiral, with pro-Russian separatists running amok and eventually carving out a land corridor to Russia-annexed Crimea.
"We know that there is work to do ... but tonight we crossed an important hurdle. We will have others (to cross) but it's the right way, the right path," Ayrault said.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Toni Reinhold)