France and Germany yesterday looked set to ramp up pressure on Russia to stem the Ukraine conflict in frantic negotiations as the clock ticks down on a shaky truce.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were due to hold four-way telephone talks with Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin and new Kiev leader Petro Poroshenko ahead of a 1900 GMT deadline for an unsteady ceasefire to end in violence-hit eastern Ukraine, reports AFP.
The last-minute talks follow a two-hour conversation between the quartet on Sunday in which Merkel and Hollande reiterated a warning from the EU that it could slap punishing sanctions on Moscow yesterday if Putin did not explicitly pressure pro-Kremlin rebels to stop fighting.
The two European heads and Putin agree on the need to extend a ceasefire that they say is a key first step towards ending 13 weeks of bloodshed that has claimed some 450 lives.
Ukraine’s national security council said yesterday it would make a decision on whether to extend the ceasefire before it expires at 1900 GMT.
On the ground though, the supposed truce has done little to stem the violence with both sides accusing each other of carrying on firing.
Russian state TV station Channel One said yesterday that its cameraman Anatoly Klyan, 68, died after being shot in the stomach by Ukrainian troops on an overnight reporting trip with insurgents at a military base near the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the death showed that Ukrainian forces “clearly do not want a de-escalation in the armed conflict in the east.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces said that attacks by the insurgents over the weekend killed five of its soldiers.