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Germany Hosts Meeting To Review Peace Deal For Eastern Ukraine


The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine wrapped up a big meeting in Berlin today. They're trying to revive a peace agreement for Eastern Ukraine. The so-called Minsk Peace Accords were signed early last year, but they've done little to stop the fighting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also had planned to use these talks to take Russian President Vladimir Putin to task over his country's actions in Syria.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us now from Berlin, and Soraya, how did the talks go?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, they went very long - for about six hours. And Chancellor Merkel came out with President Hollande. She said that they didn't have any miracles - this was a phrase she had used earlier in the day, that she wasn't expecting any - but that they actually developed or they did take some concrete steps and developed a roadmap which now will be worked on next month by the foreign ministers.

They got down to details like removal of mines and more humanitarian considerations - for example, getting pedestrians to be able to walk back and forth between the areas that are held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

And according to the Ukrainian president who wasn't at this press conference, Petro Poroshenko - according to the Ukrainian embassy where he held a press conference, he said that the Russians also agreed to an armed international inspectors mission. So all in all, there was more talk here or more details here than certainly came out of the last meeting a year ago when this quartet met.

SIEGEL: Soraya, this is the first time that Vladimir Putin has been in Berlin since Russian forces seized Crimea. Why was he invited at this time?

NELSON: Well, actually it's been four years since he's been in Berlin, so it's been even longer than that. And apparently he expressed some interest in holding this meeting in Berlin. Certainly Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande of France saw this as an opportunity to hammer the Russian leader about escalating violence in Syria. And also there's an EU summit starting tomorrow where leaders are going to be discussing relations with Moscow, so this seemed like a good opportunity to at least have some conversation face to face.

But it's really important to note that despite this enthusiasm, you know, to have this meeting, the first visit was actually not a very friendly reunion. President Putin was greeted by protesters. He arrived late. And certainly Chancellor Merkel didn't look super friendly when she shook hands with him briefly and dragged him inside for the meeting.

SIEGEL: Well...

NELSON: Not dragged.

SIEGEL: On the subject of Syria, did Merkel in fact take Putin to task?

NELSON: Yes. She repeated several times during a news conference that she was very hard with him, and in fact the phrase war crimes was raised. At the least, she said, these air bombings that are going on by the Syrians and the Russians are inhumane and that he needs to separate - or not he, but the forces need to separate civilians from fighters. And you can't do that if you're just constantly bombing them from the air.

She mentioned that humanitarian aid would be a first step. Today it was announced by the Russians that they would - did a one-sided - or they will be doing a one-sided cease-fire tomorrow. That was extended from eight hours to 11 hours, and many here are interpreting that as a nod to what Chancellor Merkel was saying.

SIEGEL: Putin was also reported to have said that Russia says that its European partners proposed to speed up work on a new constitution for Syria.

NELSON: Yes. I - if that was discussed. It wasn't - it didn't come out of the press conference. Chancellor Merkel didn't mention anything about that.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.