Germany’s foreign minister has asked his counterparts in Ukraine and Russia to consider compromise at talks in Minsk. Meawhile, Britain's foreign secretary has called on parliament to take a tough stance on Russia.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin will meet with France's Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, in the hopes of hammering out a peace deal to end the 10-month civil war, which has killed more than 5,400 people.
Ahead of a meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked Russia's Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine's Pavlo Klimkin to "evaluate the state of the current talks and to open themselves up to compromise on the remaining difficult issues."
As world leaders press for a diplomatic solution to the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country, both sides claim to have made significant gains on the ground. Nine people, including two civilians, died in fighting on Tuesday. A further six were wounded when, according to regional police, rocket fire hit the Ukrainian army's eastern headquarters in Kramatorsk, though the separatists denied the accusation.
Meeting Merkel in Washington Monday, US President Barack Obama announced that he would hold off on deciding whether to send arms to Ukraine until after Minsk.
Officials from the Kremlin have warned against any country's sending weapons to Ukraine or attempting to put pressure on Russia, and Merkel herself staunchly opposes arming the beleaguered military, giving the US and Germany a less-than-unified stance.
Last ditch attempts to ready all sides for reaching a compromise coincided with reports of continued fighting in Ukraine on Tuesday. Ukrainian state media also reported that Russia had launched military exercises in Crimea.
'Explore the opportunity'
Should Minsk fail, Britain and Germany will continue to negotiate EU sanctions on Russia, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Tuesday, following criticism that the country had taken the backseat when it came to the conflict. He added that Russia had "aggravated the effects of its initial incursion" by providing military support to "proxies" fighting in war-torn eastern Ukraine.
"We are actively discussing the maintenance of and the extension of the sanctions regime with the Germans," Hammond told the British Parliament on Tuesday, saying he favored rolling over the existing measures until the end of the year. "Of course they want to explore the opportunity that tomorrow's meeting, if it goes ahead, may offer," he said, referring to Germany's hopes for the planned Ukraine peace talks on Wednesday.
Hammond also told Parliament that Britain reserved the right to arm Ukraine's government and would not allow the country's army to collapse. "It's a national decision for each country in the NATO alliance to decide whether to supply lethal aid to Ukraine," he said.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)