KIEV (Reuters) - The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Wednesday that she and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had detected signs of greater willingness from Russia to resolve the crisis in Ukraine’s pro-separatist eastern territories.
But Poroshenko balanced this judgment by saying Ukraine was in a virtual state of war with Russia and he pledged to work to integrate his country with “Euro-Atlantic security”, a clear reference to the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
The cautiously-worded comments of the EU’s Federica Mogherini echoed those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Tuesday said Russia has made constructive moves recently towards reducing tensions in Ukraine, where more than 4,700 people have been killed in the pro-Russian uprising since April.
“We shared the impression that there might be some elements that could make us think that there might be some more willingness to solve the conflict on the Russian side, on President (Vladimir) Putin’s side,” said Mogherini.
Mogherini was visiting Kiev to discuss with the pro-Western authorities their handling of the conflict, which has caused the worst crisis in Russia-West relations since the Cold War, and their progress in implementing economic reforms in line with an association and free trade agreement.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March and months of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions have driven relations between the former Soviet allies to an all-time low.
“Ukraine today is in a virtual state of war,” Poroshenko said in Poland. “Russia annexed Crimea. Illegal armed groups, under the control of our eastern neighbour, are increasing their armed activity in the Donbass.”
He told the Polish parliament that he would press legislators in Kiev to scrap Ukraine’s non-aligned status and “return to the course towards integration with the sphere of Euro-Atlantic security”.
Though Ukraine’s acceptance into the 28-member NATO alliance is widely seen as improbable at the moment, his comments will anger Moscow which sees Ukraine’s accession as a threat to its own security.
With violence lessening significantly in recent weeks, Poroshenko said there was a possibility of a new round of peace talks between Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, possibly in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Sunday.
But Mogherini cautioned that Russia needed to take concrete steps as agreed in a September ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk, which has been repeatedly flouted.
Russia, which denies Ukrainian accusations of intervening militarily on the side of the eastern rebels, has been pressing with separatist leaders for a resumption of the Minsk talks.
Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Wiktor Szary in Warsaw; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Dominic Evans