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dpa (TNS)

KIEV — Ukraine on Tuesday suggested fresh talks with Russia over the bloody conflict with separatists, but insisted that the United States should participate.

“We invite the Russian Federation to hold serious negotiations on neutral territory,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Kiev, according to local news agencies.

Yatsenyuk added that such negotiations should be held in the so-called Geneva format, which includes the U.S. and the European Union, but does not include separatist leaders.

He stressed that everything depends on Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If he has the political will to end this war against Ukraine and to respect international law, we are ready to continue talks,” Yatsenyuk said after a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Russia quickly rejected the initiative. Kiev should hold talks with the insurgents and not with Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax.

Yatsenyuk was speaking after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier held talks in Kiev to save the fragile ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Steinmeier said the ceasefire continues to be relevant and warned of a risk of major military confrontation.

The Minsk ceasefire agreements are not perfect, but a good “basis for reference,” Steinmeier said after talks with Yatsenyuk and President Petro Poroshenko.

Ukraine accuses Russia and the separatists of undermining the accords, signed in September in the Belarusian capital.

Poroshenko handed Steinmeier a list of violations that he says were committed by Moscow.

“Russia has not fulfilled a single criteria,” he said. As examples he named the sealing of the Russian-Ukrainian border and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday accused Russia of a “serious military buildup” both inside eastern Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery and also advanced air defence systems,” Stoltenberg said ahead of talks with EU defence ministers in Brussels.
He called on Moscow to pull back its forces and to respect the Minsk agreements.

Moscow vehemently denies the accusations. However, in an interview released on Monday President Putin said Russia would not allow the Ukrainian military to defeat the separatists.

Steinmeier arrived in Moscow later on Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov dampened hopes for the visit.

“Nobody expects a breakthrough, but we appreciate the regular dialogue with Germany and other EU countries,” he said in Minsk, according to Russian news agencies.

The German minister’s mission comes after Western leaders and Putin failed to make any progress toward resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine during talks at the recent G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Putin for two hours in Brisbane, later gave a pessimistic account and warned of growing Russian interference in other parts of Europe.

The fighting between government troops and pro-Russian rebels has killed more than 4,000 people since it began in April.

AFP Photo/Anatoliy Stepanov

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