KIEV, Ukraine – An insurgent ambush killed six soldiers Tuesday in eastern Ukraine as Germany moved to jump-start a possible plan toward peace that includes launching a dialogue on decentralizing the government in Kiev.
Ukraine’s leadership appeared cool to the plan and U.S. officials view its prospects for success skeptically. But some analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is more likely to accept a deal that doesn’t come from Washington
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Ukraine to try to broker a quick launch of talks between the central government and pro-Russia separatists. That would be a first step in implementing a road map drawn up by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe aimed at settling the crisis.
The OSCE is a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that includes Russia and the U.S., whose sparring over each other’s role in Ukraine sometimes overshadows events on the ground.
Speaking in Brussels, acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk thanked the OSCE for its plan but said Ukraine has drawn up its own road map for ending the crisis and noted the people of his country should settle the issue themselves.
A settlement has been elusive, as insurgents in eastern Ukraine seize police stations and government buildings. Two regions in the east have declared themselves independent after a weekend referendum, and one of them, Donetsk, has appealed for annexation by Russia.
Ukrainian forces have mounted an offensive to try to put down the armed insurgents. On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said six soldiers were killed by insurgents who ambushed a convoy. The separatist leader in Luhansk, one of the regions that declared independence, was shot and wounded, insurgents said.
The U.S. and Western European countries accuse Russia of fomenting the unrest, with the goal of destabilizing the country or seeking a pretext to invade and seize eastern regions, which are largely Russian-speaking and the heartland of Ukrainian industry.
Russia in turn denounces Ukraine’s caretaker government, which took power after pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February following months of large protests. Moscow calls it a nationalist junta encouraged by Washington.
With the tensions high between Washington and Moscow, Steinmeier may be a more effective interlocutor. A senior official in the U.S. administration told the Associated Press that the U.S. had been coordinating with Germany and encouraging its leadership for a diplomatic path in Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to discuss the Ukraine crisis in public.
The OSCE plan, by encouraging discussion of decentralizing the government, suggests that the West sees Russia as having the upper hand. Moscow has pushed for the federalization of Ukraine – giving the regions more powers.