Vladimir Putin told state television that he does not expect his country will go to war with Ukraine. At the same time, he warned Ukrainian President Poroshenko against trying to take back Crimea.
Speaking to Russian state media, President Vladimir Putin said he did not foresee war erupting between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine.
"I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope this will never happen," he said, adding that he did not see the need for another meeting with France, Germany, and Ukraine to discuss a resolution to the conflict there, because "if the Minsk agreement to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine is fulfilled, I am convinced that the situation will gradually return to normal."
Putin's Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko called on his rival to behave in a "civilized way" and protect the rights and interests of people in the Donbass region, where most of the fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists has taken place.
Putin also warned against any "retaliatory" moves on the part of Poroshenko to take back the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed last March. Poroshenko refers to the area as "occupied," whereas Putin argues the annexation was to protect the ethnic Russians who live there.
Russia-backed separatists recently forced Ukrainian troops out Debaltseve, a strategic town linking the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk
Poroshenko has also accused Putin of ordering snipers to fire on protestors almost exactly one year ago in Kyiv's Maidan Square, touching off the conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people.
A ceasefire agreed to earlier in February in the Belarusian capital Minsk has seen mixed success. While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has reported reduced violence and both sides consented to a prisoner swap, a stalemate over the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the rebels forcing the Ukrainian troops to flee the strategic rail hub Debaltseve has thrown the accord's effectiveness into question.
The Ukrainian, Russian, German and French foreign ministers are scheduled to meet today in Paris to discuss the ongoing crisis. The OSCE is also scheduled today to deliver its annual report to the UN Security Council.
es/bw (dpa, Reuters, AP)