French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have come out in support of a deal struck by the trilateral contact group for a general ceasefire in Ukraine. They meet Putin in China next week.
Merkel and Hollande intend to continue working in the Normandy Four format to settle the crisis in Ukraine until the Minsk agreements are implemented, they said in a joint communique on Thursday.
"[They] explicitly support the agreement of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine on a comprehensive ceasefire throughout the conflict zone […] They reaffirmed their commitment to continue working together with Ukraine and Russia in the Normandy format to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the leaders said as quoted by the German federal government.
"We stress that this must be the start of a lasting ceasefire," Hollande's office said in a separate statement.
The Normandy Four - Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine - was established in the summer of 2014 in order to help settle the Ukrainian crisis.The trilateral contact group is made up of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The leaders of Russia, Germany and France have agreed to meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine on September 4-5 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
While Germany wants a "constructive relationship" with Russia, "we have to live with the reality" of its actions in annexing Crimea and backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Merkel told reporters.
NATO has accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the separatists in Ukraine, an allegation Putin has denied.
Russia "needs to stop supporting the militants, and withdraw its forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in June.
EU president Donald Tusk said last week that he and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko believed Russia's account of recent events in the strife-torn east of the country was "unreliable."
Tusk said he had called Poroshenko, after EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini last week expressed support for Ukraine when Moscow charged Kyiv with "terrorist" incursions into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
"Spoke to President Poroshenko. We have a similar assessment of the situation in Crimea and Donbass. Russian version of events unreliable," Tusk said on Twitter.
He added that he was "positive" on the prospect of visa-free travel for Ukraine, a key incentive offered to Kyiv in return for political and economic reforms meant to help the former Soviet-era satellite meet EU standards.
The 28-nation EU has consistently backed efforts to end the conflict between pro-Moscow rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine which has left around 9,600 people dead since early 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills recently, while Merkel accused him of breaking international law in Ukraine and said NATO would defend member states against attack.
Combat readiness exercises are taking place "to defend the interests of the Russian Federation amid increasing threats to its security," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last week.
Troops in Russia's southern, central and western military districts, naval deployments in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and airborne forces are involved, he said.
jbh/kms (Reuters, AFP)