Ukraine urges Merkel, EU help end pro-Russian revolt23 june 2014, 15:44
Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies on Monday to help settle a pro-Russian uprising that has raged on in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire, AFP reports.
President Petro Poroshenko conducted another furious round of telephone diplomacy as his foreign minister prepared to outline the details of Kiev's new peace plan to EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
Poroshenko was due to sign an historic EU trade agreement in Brussels on Friday, crowning his May 25 election promise to make the decisive move closer to Europe that the regime toppled by protests in February resisted.
The new president's high-stakes peace push envisions talks with eastern representatives but not rebel leaders -- a condition that Russian President Vladimir Putin says will not help end the 11-week revolt.
Putin threw his weight behind Poroshenko's plan over the weekend under the condition that it also leads to constitutional changes that grant broader rights to ethnic Russians who view the more nationalist leaders now in power in Kiev with mistrust.
Russia on Monday also insisted that the week-long unilateral ceasefire that Poroshenko ordered on Friday evening be extended over the long term.
"At the moment, a durable ceasefire is needed as an irreversible condition for starting practical steps towards a binding dialogue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's office said after his talks with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Insurgency commanders have rejected Poroshenko's overtures and continued attacking government forces in their campaign to gain independence and eventually join Russia -- a drive thus fur resisted by the Kremlin.
Poroshenko's office said he told Merkel by telephone that the rebels had attacked government positions "more than 20 times" over the weekend in apparent rejection of Putin's own call on Saturday for both sides to halt fire.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said on Monday that six Ukrainian soldiers were wounded overnight.
The 48-year-old chocolate baron stressed that the direct involvement of world leaders such as Merkel was instrumental in resolving a crisis that has both threatened his country's survival and plunged East-West relations to a post-Cold War low.
"The involvement of Merkel and other world leaders is critically important to a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," his office quoted Poroshenko as telling Merkel by phone on Sunday.
The White House said Poroshenko delivered a similar message to US Vice President Joe Biden.
Both Washington and its European allies have threatened Russia with biting sanctions against entire sectors of its economy should Putin fail to take substantial steps to de-escalate the crisis and end his perceived support for the rebel cause.
Biden told Poroshenko that Washington was "working closely with its G7 partners to prepare further economic sanctions against Russia if Moscow did not... stop the flow of arms and militants across the border and use its influence to publicly call on the separatists to lay down their arms," the White House said.
The Kremlin has firmly denied helping arm the rebels despite the recent crossing of Russian tanks and rocket launchers across the porous border and into the conflict zone.
Mixed Putin signals
EU leaders are still trying to decipher Putin's true intentions in what one analyst in Moscow called the Kremlin's "cat and mouse game" with the West.
Putin has in recent days both come out in support of Poroshenko's peace efforts and ordered fresh military exercises across a vast swathe of central Russia that immediately drew notice in Kiev.
Russian actions present "a bit of a mixed picture," an EU official said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin was due to outline Kiev's persistent concerns about Russia during talks in Luxembourg with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Some analysts believe Putin -- still stung by the loss of an ally in Kiev who could have brought Ukraine into a new alliance of post-Soviet nations being assembled by the Kremlin -- is trying to unsettle the new team and keep reins on the Russified southeast while avoiding new sanctions.
Washington imposed travel bans and asset freezes against another seven Ukraine separatists on Friday. It also wants to see more determination from EU nations that are still fearful of jeopardising hugely important trade ties with Russia.
The EU has so far imposed asset freezes and visa bans on more than 60 people as part of "Phase 2" punitive measures. But it has baulked at broader sectoral sanctions -- so-called "Phase 3" measures tha would hurt both sides.