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International talks set for Monday on Ukraine conflict
by Staff Writers
Kiev (AFP) July 21, 2017

Moldova renews calls for Russian troop withdrawal
Chisinau (AFP) July 21, 2017 - Moldova's parliament on Friday issued a fresh demand for Russian troops to leave a breakaway region of the country in a symbolic move likely to stir tensions with Moscow.

Following a walkout by pro-Kremlin parties, lawmakers in the ex-Soviet nation approved a declaration calling for Russia to pull out soldiers who have been stationed in the breakaway territory of Transdniestr since a ceasefire deal halted a bitter conflict 25 years ago.

The presence of Russian forces "violates the constitutional provisions on independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity" of Moldova, the declaration said.

The demand is not expected to alter the situation on the ground but has already stirred passions in the divided country.

There is currently a tug-of-war going on inside Moldova, with the pro-Western government locked in a bitter dispute with Kremlin-friendly figurehead President Igor Dodon over the country's future.

Pro-EU lawmaker Marian Lupu hailed the vote as "very important" and said it was "symbolic" that it came on the 25th anniversary of the end of the conflict in the Russian-speaking Transdniestr region in 1992.

But Dodon immediately hit back, calling the move "another provocative step" that was "intended to worsen relations with Russia."

Moldova, a small country wedged between Ukraine and Romania, has an East-West cultural, linguistic and political split.

Dodon, who was elected in November, has called for closer ties with Moscow and said he would like to scrap a 2014 deal that brought Moldova closer to the European Union.

In May, Moldova's West-leaning government kicked out five Russian diplomats which saw Moscow turf out its officials in revenge.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France will hold telephone talks on Monday, officials said, amid a fresh flare up in fighting in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed rebels.

Washington also announced on Friday that its new special envoy for negotiations to end the more than three years of fighting, Kurt Volker, will travel to Ukraine and Europe for talks.

The flurry of diplomatic activity follows a fresh clashes in eastern Ukraine which has claimed the lives of 11 Ukrainian troops over the past few days, the most serious surge in bloodshed in recent months.

The diplomatic phone talks on Ukraine are also the first since French President Emmanuel Macron took office.

"I will demand the immediate and genuine provision of a ceasefire along the entire frontline," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Friday.

The Kremlin also confirmed the talks were scheduled.

Meanwhile the US State Department said in a statement Friday that Volker would travel to Ukraine on Friday "to meet with those who have been affected by Russian aggression".

Volker, a former ambassador to NATO, will also visit France, Belgium, Austria and Britain in the coming days to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

On Monday he is to hold talks in Kiev on "the path to restoring Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the State Department said.

In Brussels he is set to hold talks with both EU and NATO officials "on resolving the conflict in Ukraine".

The violence in eastern Ukraine flared several days after a top rebel leader announced a plan to form a new "state" that Kiev warned could put a long-stalled peace plan further in jeopardy.

Donetsk rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko on Tuesday announced plans to create a new "state" to replace Ukraine.

The proposed country was to be called Malorossiya (Little Russia) -- a tsarist-era term for an area covering much of modern day Ukraine -- and have its capital in Donetsk.

The plan appears to be dead in the water after other rebel bosses rejected it and the insurgents' backers in the Kremlin dubbed it a "private initiative."

However, it sparked fears it could drive another nail into the coffin of a stalled peace process that has failed to end a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives.

A deal brokered by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015 has hit a wall but is still viewed by those involved as the only way of unwinding Ukraine's war.

Kiev and Western nations accuse Russia of supporting the Ukraine rebels financially and militarily, charges which Moscow denies.


On third MH17 anniversary, families unveil 'living memorial'
Vijfhuizen, Netherlands (AFP) July 17, 2017
Three years after Flight MH17 was shot down by a missile over war-torn Ukraine, nearly 2,000 relatives gathered Monday to unveil a "living memorial" to their loved ones. A total of 298 trees have been planted in the shape of a green ribbon, one for each of the victims who died on board the Malaysia Airlines flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Q ... read more

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