Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shook hands in Minsk, Belarus, today, their first interaction since June 6th in France. The leaders are meeting with the EU and Eurasian Customs Union today to discuss the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine and to review Poroshenko's proposed peace plan. The Customs Union includes Ukraine, members of the European Commission, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
Here's the world's most uncomfortable handshake:
Things got off to a rocky start, as Putin said he wants further cooperation with Ukraine — as long as Ukraine doesn't move closer to the EU. “We do not want to discriminate against anybody," said Putin. "We are simply going to implement a standard trade regime regarding Ukraine — the same, which is used in relations between Russia and the EU." Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, was more candid, telling press that the two leaders discussions will include "the aftermath of Kiev’s signing the European Trade Association Agreement with the EU."
Poroshenko is focused on humanitarian efforts in Eastern Ukraine thus far, rather than larger economic issues between the two. "I am convinced this plan remains relevant today and would be an effective means to stop the bloodshed and to start rebuilding Donbass," he told Russia Today. Poroshenko plans to arrange an international forum focused on Donbass this upcoming fall. The EU and Customs Union have both been invited.
Other leaders in attendance are also pushing the peace in Donbass. "A break for a truce is essential for the children and women affected by the conflict to get help," said Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s President.
Peskov offered a brief comment on the humanitarian crisis to press in advance of discussions between the two nations, "[One] can’t ignore the catastrophic situation in eastern regions of Ukraine, especially in Donetsk and Lugansk...[Issues discussed will include] the relations between countries of the Customs Union and Ukraine, including in the aftermath of the signing of the Kiev Association Agreement. There are many issues for discussion. They include Ukrainian domestic crisis and terrible humanitarian catastrophe in the country’s east, and the necessity of the ceasefire."
Though discussions are just beginning, Poroshenko has already described the "intensity of the dialogue" as "very high."