Russia is seeking a peaceful resolution of the crisis in eastern Ukraine, its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, ahead of international talks in Belarus.
The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying Russia was “promoting a political approach” to what he called “this hardest crisis and tragedy.”
The agency quoted him as saying Western countries should demand that the Ukrainian government stop using heavy weapons and aircraft against civilians in rebel-held areas.
The West should not threaten Russia with new sanctions, he said.
Lavrov was speaking ahead of talks in the Belarus capital, Minsk, involving officials from Russia, Ukraine, pro-Russian separatist rebels and international monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
A pro-Russian leader, Andrei Purgin – who is attending the talks – said the rebels would use the meeting to press claims for independence in eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir called for talks between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists, including on the issue of statehood.
The goal, he said, was to protect the interests of people in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has argued for the federalization of eastern Ukraine.
Putin’s remarks came a day after European leaders called for Russia to take the lead in resolving the crisis, threatening tougher sanctions if action isn’t taken within a week.
Meanwhile, Australia said it would bring its sanctions on Russia into line with those of the European Union.
NATO says it believes well over 1,000 Russian troops are fighting with the separatists. Russia has denied direct military involvement.
The separatists have made military gains in the past few days.
Nearly 2,600 people have died since mid-April in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations.