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Ex-Leaders Urge More Russian, Western Dialogue to Avert Ukraine 'Escalation'

By Sebastian Sprenger

Global Security Newswire

Ukrainian servicemen look on as an armored vehicle with a Ukrainian flag drives past in a convoy headed towards the eastern city of Debaltceve, in the region of Donetsk, on July 30. A group of former European and Russian officials on Thursday urged leaders on all sides to exercise restraint in resolving the conflict. Ukrainian servicemen look on as an armored vehicle with a Ukrainian flag drives past in a convoy headed towards the eastern city of Debaltceve, in the region of Donetsk, on July 30. A group of former European and Russian officials on Thursday urged leaders on all sides to exercise restraint in resolving the conflict. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Former top Russian and European diplomats are asking their countries' leaders to ramp up cooperation, not eschew it, to resolve a major rift over Ukraine.

Recalling "basic lessons of crisis-management learned during the Cold War," the group of elder statesmen made their plea in a position paper released Thursday by the European Leadership Network and other think tanks.

Among the documents' signatories are notable Russian figures, including former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the Kremlin's foreign-intelligence chief, retired Gen. Vyacheslav Trubnikov. European signatories include past foreign and defense ministers of Poland, the United Kingdom, Spain and France.

Their paper comes as a conflict over Ukraine between Russia on the one side and Europe and the United States on the other threatens to spiral out of control. Western officials suspect Russia of propping up pro-Moscow separatists in the eastern part of the country, purposefully destabilizing Ukraine. Many Russians see the conflict as a must-win battle against Western efforts to encroach on their borders.

The recent downing in Ukrainian air space of a civilian passenger jet, which killed nearly 300, has further stoked tensions as a search for the perpetrators unfolds.

For starters, the position paper proposes that all sides emphasize restraint to their respective military chains of command. In addition, mechanisms for dispute resolution must be strengthened, the document recommends.

"The NATO-Russia Council has barely met since the crisis in Ukraine erupted," the former officials lament. "E.U.-Russia crisis management arrangements also do not exist."

They also warn that strictly unilateral measures, such as a Russian invasion into Ukraine or tough European sanctions against Moscow, likely would backfire rather than resolve the conflict.

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