BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister said Monday that Russia’s return to the top diplomatic table depends on the success of a peace initiative for Ukraine.
Russia lost its membership in the Group of Eight major economies last year over its backing for separatists fighting against the government in eastern Ukraine.
The comment by Frank-Walter Steinmeier came hours before a meeting with his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and France aimed at implementing deals struck in the Belarusian capital Minsk in February and September.
Steinmeier dismissed suggestions that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be invited to attend the G-7 meeting hosted by Germany in June, but said Moscow shouldn’t be isolated indefinitely.
“The path from G-7 to G-8 will surely lead via Ukraine and the issue of the implementation of the Minsk Agreement,” he said during a visit to Barcelona, Spain, according to remarks released by his office.
Steinmeier said Monday’s talks, which he predicted would be lengthy, would focus on laying the groundwork for a local election in the rebel-occupied areas; restarting the process of exchanging prisoners of war; and improving the dire economic situation in eastern Ukraine.
Shortly before the meeting’s start, Steinmeier expressed concern about a flare-up in fighting in Ukraine over the past couple of days.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recorded at least 1,166 explosions, caused mainly by artillery and mortar shell strikes in northern Donetsk as well as on its outskirts including the airport, now obliterated by fighting.
The OSCE also reported intense mortar fire outside the village of Shyrokyne, by the Azov Sea, but said its representatives were repeatedly barred from accessing the village on Sunday.
Mortar fire was also heard at night and in the morning on Monday in central Donetsk.