The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France spoke by telephone Sunday about how to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has continued despite a ceasefire called by the government that insurgent leaders said they would join.
No concrete new steps to end the violence were announced after the call, which included Presidents Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin of Russia and François Hollande of France, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. But the four leaders agreed to keep talking during the coming days. That appeared to further reduce any chance that the European nations would soon impose new sanctions against Russia for doing too little to end the insurrection in eastern Ukraine, where rebel leaders include a number of Russian citizens.
European leaders meeting in Belgium issued an ultimatum Friday saying that Russia would face new sanctions if four demands were not satisfied by Monday. Those demands are the release of all hostages by the pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine; the surrender of three border checkpoints back to Ukrainian government control; an agreement for monitoring of the ceasefire and the border by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; and the start of substantial negotiations on Mr. Poroshenko’s 15-point peace plan, which he announced on June 20. Among the hostages are observers from an earlier mission by the organization.
There has been modest progress toward those goals, including the release of eight monitors who were held for several weeks in the besieged Donetsk region. But the rebels holding the border checkpoints have refused to give them up.
The unilateral ceasefire that Mr. Poroshenko declared was scheduled to end Friday, but after the European ultimatum, he extended it until 10 p.m. Monday. Some rebels leaders said that they, too, would adhere to a truce until then.
Even so, there has been sporadic fighting across the eastern part of the country. A Ukrainian military spokesman said Sunday that at least five soldiers were killed overnight in attacks by rebel militias. In the conference call, Mr. Poroshenko complained that the militants were not abiding by the ceasefire and that Russia was still allowing fighters and weapons to flow across the border to the rebels.
“Ukraine continues to insist on the return of control to the State Border Service of all checkpoints,” Mr. Poroshenko’s office said in a statement describing the call. “The Ukrainian President also called on the Russian President to enhance the regime of the state border by Russia, in order to stop the flow of insurgents and mercenaries to Ukraine and the supply of arms and armoured vehicles for them.”
The Kremlin also issued a statement about the call Sunday, emphasizing somewhat different points. It described the call as “lengthy” and said the leaders had discussed extending the ceasefire and possibly posting monitors of the Organization for Security and Co-operation along the Russia-Ukraine border.
The Kremlin said Mr. Putin spoke of the “deteriorating humanitarian situation in the southeast of Ukraine” and “stressed the need for immediate humanitarian assistance to the population of this region.” Russia has said a rising number of refugees from eastern Ukraine have been seeking safety in Russia.
The statement also said that Mr. Putin raised some issues related to the trade accord between Ukraine and the European Union that was signed on Friday. Russian objections to that treaty loom large in the recent turmoil in Ukraine: When the previous president, Viktor Yanukovych, bowed to Russian pressure and refused to sign it, that decision set off the protests that eventually toppled his government and led him to flee to Russia. His fall, in turn, sparked Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and the separatist insurrection by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Russia demanded three-way talks with Ukraine and the European Union last fall to address concerns about the trade accord, but European leaders refused. In recent months, though, there have been two lower-level meetings on technical issues, and senior diplomats are scheduled to meet on July 11 to discuss the Kremlin’s concerns.
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