The European Union is preparing to ramp up sanctions against Russia as Kiev says three soldiers have been killed in the past 24 hours in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The EU has prepared a draft statement for the foreign ministers of its 28 members to agree to extend sanctions against Russia by six months, add new people to the sanctions list and prepare new measures. Foreign ministers have called an extraordinary meeting for Thursday after a new advance by pro-Russian rebels.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters on Wednesday that the situation remains tense and that pro-Russian rebels are attacking the army on all fronts. Lysenko said the fighting is particularly fierce in Debaltseve, a strategic town which links the Donetsk rebels with the separatists in the Luhansk region.
Kiev says 30 civilians were killed in shelling of the Ukrainian government-held port of Mariupol by pro-Russian rebels on Saturday, shattering a five-month ceasefire.
"In view of the worsening situation, the Council [of foreign ministers] agrees to extend the restrictive measures targeting persons and entities for threatening or undermining Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity … until September 2015," draft conclusions for the meeting, seen by Reuters, said.
The statement was referring to asset freezes and travel bans put on dozens of Ukrainians and Russians since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last March.
The ministers will also ask the EU's Executive Commission and its diplomatic service to draw up a list of further names that could be put under sanctions, for a decision within a week, the draft statement said.
A decision on further economic sanctions on Russia is likely to be left to EU leaders who next meet on Feb. 12.
The draft statement noted evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, saying it underlined Russia's responsibility for the conflict that has already killed more than 5,000 people.
Russia denies direct involvement in the conflict. Kiev and NATO say Moscow has sent thousands of troops to fight alongside pro-Russian rebels, as well as arming and funding them.
Forging a unanimous policy on Russia has been tricky for the European Union, and one wild card could be Greece, whose newly elected leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has complained about Brussels speaking on Russia without consulting him first.
Greece's new foreign minister said he would not comment on Greece's position ahead of Thursday's meeting. A government spokesman said the issue was not discussed at a meeting of the new cabinet.