Geneva is about to host high-stake talks on Ukraine after its interim government tried to recapture eastern towns from armed pro-Russian activists. US officials say the West might impose more sanctions on Russia.
Top officials of the crisis-torn Ukraine, the EU, Russia and the US converged on Geneva early Thursday in another bid to avert a territorial split and defuse tensions in eastern Europe.
Those due to take part are EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya.
Thursday's scheduled talks in the Swiss city followed Kyiv's dispatch of forces to eastern Ukraine that ended on Wednesday withpro-Russian activists seizing six armored personnel carriers.
From Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance still hoped a political solution for the crisis would be reached in Geneva.
He added that NATO ambassadors had decided to deploy more patrol planes, ships and military staff to member states in eastern Europe, including Baltic states, to monitor the situation developing in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany still hoped that the Geneva talks would offer "a first step to restore an orderly situation in Ukraine."
Arriving in Geneva, Deshchytsya accused Moscow of covertly supporting "terrorist activities" in eastern Ukraine.
He also demanded that Moscow "withdraw troops from Crimea," Ukraine's southern peninsula which Russia recently annexed after four months of pro-European protests in Kyiv which led to the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
Deshchytsya added that Kyiv clearly saw the need for dialogue with Russia, Ukraine's main trade partner, as the "only way" to stabilize the situation.
Russia condemns US stance
Russia, which has argued that its actions protect ethnic Russians, on Wednesday condemned the US for its approval of Kyiv's eastern military intervention.
Its foreign ministry said Washington should be aware of the "disastrous consequences of this reckless support for their Kyiv proteges."
"Admirable restraint," says US
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said it was appropriate that Kyiv take action to restore order in eastern Ukraine and had done so with "admirable restraint."
As US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva, Carney also said: "We are actively preparing new sanctions."
For Russia the "costs" would escalate, Carney said, depending on "whether or not Russia is serious about de-escalating."
Mixed views in EU bloc
Some European nations with multiple links to Russia, including gas deliveries, are reluctant to heighten economic sanctions.
Last Monday, EU foreign ministers decided to expand their list of 33 individuals targeted with asset freezes and visa bans for their roles in Crimea's annexation.
Diplomats said, however, that agreement masked differences over what would trigger a third phase of sanctions against Moscow.
That would mean moving from largely symbolic diplomatic measures and personal restrictions to broader curbs on trade, energy and finance with Russia.
ipj/ccp (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP