The upcoming Ukraine peace meeting in Paris is a good sign, but it is not the end in itself, the country's Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during his visit in Vilnius.
He met with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius on Friday and said that for the peace process to bring real results, Russia needed to demonstrate good faith.
“The meeting itself is a good sign, but it's not the result per se,” Kuleba told journalists. “We may achieve some results if we see clear willingness of the Russian Federation to withdraw its forces from the occupied parts of Donbass, restore Ukraine's control over the border, and ensure a full de-occupation and reintegration of the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk back into the political, legal and economic body of Ukraine.”
The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are to hold a peace summit on December 9 in Paris.
Linkevičius said that Ukraine should not be made to bear all the responsibility for peace ahead of the meeting. He also expressed hope that the talks would produce positive changes.
“Progress is when something happens in reality, when there's an improvement, be it the situation at the contact line or a different attitude to the peace process,” the Lithuanian minister said.
“We really don't see it yet,” Linkevičius added.
The war in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists started in 2014 and has already claimed over 13,000 lives.
Ahead of the summit, discussions centre on the so-called Steinmeier Formula that Kyiv has agreed to.
Named after the German president, the Steinmeier Formula stipulates that Ukraine's eastern regions now controlled by Russia-supported separatists would get a temporary special status until local elections are held there.
If international experts conclude that the elections were free and fair, the results would gain permanent legal power.
Kuleba says the formula is a compromise among the parties and is not essentially geared towards peace in eastern Ukraine.
“It speaks only about the elections that may take place in the occupied parts of Donbas once a broader solution is found,” the Ukrainian deputy prime minister said. “It has nothing to do with anything else. It is a very focused element, a compromise that partially paved the way for the ‘Normandy’ meeting.”
Linkevičius said that “everything that's been agreed should not be at the expense of Ukraine's sovereignty”.
Russia has recently returned three Ukrainian military ships it seized in the Kerch Strait near occupied Crimea last year, but Kyiv says they are in a dire state.
“We have some experience of dealing with the Russian Federation, so we are not surprised by what we got,” Kuleba
The Lithuanian minister does not consider the return of the ships “a special event”, since Russia is obliged to do it by international law.
Twenty-four crew members of the three Ukrainian ships were also detained during last year's confrontation with Russia in the Kerch Strait. They were released during a prisoner swap with Ukraine in September.
The Lithuanian and Ukrainian representatives also discussed the Ukraine Reform Conference to be held in Vilnius next year. It will aim at pooling international efforts to support Kyiv.
Lithuania assists Ukraine in carrying out reforms in the public sector and also provides humanitarian and military assistance.
“We don't only want to see the conference itself, we want more content and development,” Linkevičius said.
The conference will aim at promoting reforms in Ukraine and implementing the EU's Association Agreement, he said.
“That would be the best response for sceptics who look at the situation in Ukraine,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian deputy prime minister said the conference would also aim at ensuring a sustainable reform process in his country, and that would allow for deeper European integration.
“Basically, integration into the European Union means reforms,” Kuleba said.
The Ukraine Reform Conference is planned on July 6-7.