Ukraine peace summit begins in Minsk

Talks between the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia have begun in the Palace of Independence in Minsk...

Talks between the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia have begun in the Palace of Independence in Minsk.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande started the “Normandy Four” summit with a face-to-face meeting behind closed doors.

Photographs show Messrs. Poroshenko and Putin sitting opposite each other at the negotiating table with grim expressions on their faces. Mr. Hollande and Ms. Merkel are sitting together on a sofa.

The meeting will be followed by talks at the level of delegations.

More than 500 reporters from all over the world were accredited to provide coverage of the talks, aimed at negotiating a political solution to the bloody crisis in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the Contact Group on Ukraine held a two-hour meeting to prepare the ground for the summit. The Group was apparently planning to resume its talks on Wednesday, but the plans were later abandoned for some reason.

While visiting a city in the Donetsk province on the night between February 10 and 11, Mr. Poroshenko said that he would was leaving for Minsk to seek an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire and the start of political dialogue."

"We demand peace without any conditions. We demand that they cease fire, withdraw foreign troops, seal the border. They have nothing to do here. We have no conflict. We will find a compromise inside the country," he said in a reference to Russia’s apparent military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Poroshenko said that February 11, 2015 might be the most important date in the history of Ukraine. “And I can say that I have probably never had and will never have a more important meeting during my work in the post of president than today’s [meeting] in Minsk,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko said that the summit would determine whether “we manage to stop the aggressor by diplomatic means” or have to adopt a completely different strategy.

Mr. Poroshenko said that Ukraine and the European Union would speak with one voice at the Minsk summit and would demand an unconditional ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Following a telephone conversation on Wednesday morning, Mr. Hollande and Ms. Merkel announced plans to travel to Minsk and make every effort to secure a peaceful settlement in southeastern Ukraine.