Moscow (AsiaNews) - "Finally, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko talked about the conflict in eastern Ukraine," read the title of the article in the Kommersant newspaper covering yesterday's first bilateral meeting in Minsk between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. By contrast, Gazeta.ru bemoaned the "late meeting", playing up the fact that it occurred at 11 pm and came months after Poroshenko's election as Ukrainian president.
The two leaders had met before for 15 minutes in Normandy on 6 June, the anniversary of the Allied landing, in the presence of the leaders of France and Germany. Since then, they spoke several times on the phone, but they never met one-on-one.
For the first time the conflict in the east is discussed
The two leaders arrived in the Belarusian capital for the summit between Ukraine and the members of the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, in the presence of representatives of the European Union.
Putin described the two-hour meeting as a "positive", whilst Poroshenko called it "very complicated and difficult."
At the end, they agreed on the "need for dialogue", announcing an agreement for the creation of a "contact group" on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, which must start working "as soon as possible."
Putin said that Moscow would help mediate an agreement between Kyiv and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine's and help create a climate of trust to start negotiations to achieve a truce.
"A roadmap will be prepared in order to achieve, as soon as possible, a ceasefire regime which absolutely must be bilateral in character," Mr Poroshenko said.
Putin noted today that no cease-fire talks were held because they have to be decided by the representatives of Kyiv and Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russian encroachments, Putin's admission
Poroshenko came to the meeting with "evidence" of Russian involvement in Eastern Ukraine. Ten members of a Russian paratroopers division were captured during the week along the border, near Amvrosiivka.
Ukraine's anti-terrorism command published transcripts from interrogations, in which Russian soldiers describe themselves as "cannon fodder" who unknowingly found themselves in Ukraine and were kept in the dark about the nature of the mission in which they were involved.
Although confessions by prisoners must be taken with a grain of salt, they did force Putin to admit that Russian soldiers on a border patrol may have entered the Ukraine.
"I have not yet received a report from the defence ministry. But from what I have heard, they were patrolling the border and could have ended up on Ukrainian territory," Putin said after meeting Poroshenko.
Gas and trade
As expected, gas was discussed. Putin said he agreed with his Ukrainian counterpart to resume consultations on sales, interrupted in June because of differences over pricing and the failure to resolve Ukraine's debt problem.
The bone of contention, which was ostensibly the cause of the crisis that began last winter, namely the association agreement between the Ukraine and the European Union, was overlooked. The latter's ratification is expected in September,.
Putin stressed that this could cost Russia more than two billion euros and will inevitably lead to the cancellation of preferential arrangements for Ukrainian imports to protect the Russian market. Poroshenko said instead that it would not adversely affect Russia.
Experts point out that no breakthrough came from the meeting. Putin made it clear that he is not prepared to discuss matters of war and peace, which are the sole responsibility of Kyiv.
According to analysts cited by RBC, this shows that Putin does not consider Poroshenko an equal partner and that he is only willing to deal with Washington.
Timofei Bordachev, director of the Moscow-based Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, noted that the Obama administration is not yet ready for direct talks with Moscow over the war in the Donbas.
The Kremlin did discuss the situation on the ground, highlighting the only "agreements" reached, concerning delivering humanitarian aid in areas of conflict.
Poroshenko was vague about the terms of his "peace plan", announcing only that "The logic of a peace plan was after all supported by all the heads of state without exception."
Kommersant wrote that whilst Putin and Poroshenko communicated in Russian, they spoke "different languages".
For its part, Moskovsky Komsomolets noted one thing in Putin's statements, namely that participants broadly discussed bilateral relations, but found no common point.