Germany is preparing to host mediation talks between Ukraine and Russia in Berlin. The US has warned Russia to stop backing pro-Moscow insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is hoping to establish a new ceasefire between Kyiv and pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine, as he hosts Ukrainian, Russian, and French diplomats in Berlin on Wednesday.
A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had been invited to the afternoon meeting. Lavrov reportedly welcomed the initiative.
Ukrainian tanks and fighter bombersresumed their assault
on pro-Russian insurgents on Tuesday after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko brushed off efforts to save a tenuous 10-day truce, which he accused the rebels of undermining.
Ukrainian forces struck pro-Russian separatist bases in eastern regions. Poroshenko announced he would not renew a ceasefire but go on the offensive to rid Ukraine of "parasites."
Speaking on the phone to Lavrov on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed strong concern about the refusal of Russian-supported separatists to take the necessary steps" to enable the extension of the shaky 10-day ceasefire, according to a US State Department statement.
Kerry "stressed the importance of taking steps to de-escalate," and reiterated Washington's support for Kyiv, the statement continued.
Washington wants Moscow to "call on separatists to lay down their arms, to return the border checkpoints they hold to Ukrainian government control, and to release all remaining hostages."
Kerry "also made clear that we and our European and international partners will continue to press Russia to end all support and weapons flowing to separatists."
The Kremlin denies claims that it is financing the rebels, but faces the threat of devastating sanctions against Russia's financial and energy sectors should Putin fail to demonstrate a clear desire to resolve the conflict.
bk/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)