Ukraine crisis: Russia urges Ukraine ceasefire talks

Pro-Russian rebels have been gaining ground on Ukrainian forces in recent days
Pro-Russian rebels have been gaining ground on Ukrainian forces in recent days

An “immediate ceasefire” in Ukraine must be the priority for key negotiations taking place today, Russia’s foreign minister has said.

Ukrainian troops “must leave positions from which they can harm the civilian population”, Sergei Lavrov said.

Ukrainian and Russian officials are due to hold talks with separatist rebels and international monitors in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

Some 2,600 people have died in eastern Ukraine since fighting began in April.

The conflict broke out after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in March.

Last week’s first direct talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, did not lead to any major breakthrough.

The separatists have been gaining ground on Ukrainian forces in recent days, in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and further south around the port of Mariupol.

Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said troops were battling a Russian tank division in the city of Luhansk.

Overnight reports said separatists had taken control of the airport there.

On Monday, Mr Lavrov said he was counting on the Minsk talks to focus on “agreeing an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

He added that there would be “no military intervention” from Russia in Ukraine.

“We are for an exclusively peaceful resolution of that most serious crisis, that tragedy,” Mr Lavrov told students in Moscow.

Residents in the strategic port city of Mariupol held an anti-Russia rally over the weekend
Residents in the strategic port city of Mariupol held an anti-Russia rally over the weekend

The meeting of the so-called Contact Group in Minsk will include representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

On the eve of the talks, President Putin said the issue of “statehood” for eastern Ukraine needed to be discussed to ensure the interests of local people were “definitely upheld”.

“Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot at almost at point blank,” he said, describing the rebels’ actions as “the natural reaction of people who are defending their rights”.

Mr Putin’s comments came after the EU gave Russia a one-week ultimatum to reverse course in Ukraine or face more sanctions.

The Russian leader dismissed the EU threat, accusing it of “backing a coup d’etat” in Ukraine.

The EU and US have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on many senior Russian officials and separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.

BBC

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