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Merkel to visit Ukraine weeks before leaving office

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key mediator in the conflict between pro-Russia separatists and Ukraine, will visit Kiev weeks before she leaves office, the Ukrainian presidency said on Monday.

Berlin has been a key ally to Kiev since 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and pro-Russia separatists broke away from Ukraine, sparking a rumbling conflict that has so far claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The separatists are widely seen as having Russia’s political and military backing, though Moscow denies the claims.

Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia together comprise the so-called Normandy format, a grouping that tries to resolve the conflict.

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel intends to visit Ukraine on August 22,” Sergiy Nykyforov, a spokesman to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Facebook.

He said the topics of negotiations would include security and bilateral relations.

Her visit comes as Ukraine gets ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, a split that helped trigger the collapse of the communist bloc.

Separately, Kiev is set to host several European leaders on August 23 for a summit looking at ways to return Crimea.

Merkel, who is set to leave office later this year after 16 years in charge, also wants to emphasise to her allies that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas even after a controversial Russian gas pipeline is finished.

The 10-billion-euro ($12-billion) Nord Stream 2 pipeline is set to double Russian gas supplies to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

Berlin argues that it needs additional gas deliveries as it phases out coal and nuclear energy.

But the project has been fiercely opposed by the United States and several European countries, which argue that it will increase energy dependence on Russia and Moscow’s geopolitical clout.

The pipeline bypasses Ukraine’s gas infrastructure, depriving the nation of badly needed transit fees and, Kiev fears, removing a key check on potential Russian aggression in the region.

(AFP)

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