Leaders from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France are meeting in Berlin for talks on reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine. The leaders are also expected to address Russia's role in the Syria conflict.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel received Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday evening in Berlin for talks on implementing the Minsk agreement designed to restore peace to eastern Ukraine.
The meeting is Putin's first visit to the German capital since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. It is also the first time the four leaders have gathered together in over a year.
Merkel recieved Hollande and Poroshenko earlier on Wednesday. She is expected to hold a press conference later in the evening along with Hollande, but DW's Thomas Sparrow expects the talks will last into the night.
Dozens of demonstrators outside of the Chancellery, where the summit is taking place, held up bloody teddy bears as Putin arrived to protest Russia's air raids in Syria.
Prior to the talks on Wednesday evening, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed frustration about the slow negotiations on the resolution of the Ukraine crisis.
"I can tell you that the talks held in recent months were tedious, tough, required endless patience and even the smallest steps often [...] required long-term negotiations," Steinmeier said prior to the Ukraine summit in Berlin.
France's Hollande said the end of Wednesday's meeting would also address the conflict in Syria. "I will do everything so that this truce can be extended," he said ahead of the talks, referencing a temporary 11 hour truce which is scheduled for Thursday.
'Brutally honest assessment'
Merkel, as well, appeared to have lowered expectations going into Wednesday's talks. She said the discussions would be aimed at "offering a brutally honest assessment" of progress on implementing the Minsk peace accords for Ukraine.
"Things are stalled in many areas such as the ceasefire, political issues and humanitarian issues," Merkel told reporters on Tuesday. "We have to seize every chance we have for progress. I have to say that we cannot expect a miracle but it is worth every effort at this point."
The Minsk agreement between Russia and Ukraine, brokered in 2015 with help from France, Germany and hosts Belarus, helped reduce the frequency and scale of battles between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine, but clashes have continued while political negotiations have stalled.
Hours before the planned meeting, the Kremlin also said it did not "expect any breakthroughs" in Berlin.
Situation in Syria
Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war is sure to surface during the meetings. Merkels said she and France's Hollande would speak to Putin "about somehow alleviating people's suffering."
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military, backed by Russia, has heavily bombed eastern Aleppo in an attempt to wrest control from the rebels. Thursday's planned temporary ceasefire will allow people to leave the rebel-held area via special corridors.
rs/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)