Russia on Wednesday said that the separatists in eastern Ukraine are ready to give up territorial gains in order to reach a new ceasefire.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that separatist leaders had agreed to Ukraine’s demand to recognize the front line as defined in the Minsk peace accords of September.
“We used our influence on the (separatists’) leadership and they agreed,” Lavrov said at his annual press conference in Moscow.
However, Lavrov insisted that Ukraine immediately ceases fire and withdraws its heavy weapons from the front line.
The minister was speaking hours before fresh talks with his colleagues from Ukraine, France and Germany in Berlin.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that Moscow needs to live up to its words. “Russia must acknowledge the Minsk accords by its actions,” he wrote on Twitter.
The talks in Berlin are the latest diplomatic attempt to defuse the conflict after heavy fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine last week.
Lavrov also stressed that there was no evidence for allegations by Kiev that regular Russian troops are fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“Before you ask us to stop doing something, first show us proof that we are doing it,” he said.
Ukraine’s National Security Council said Tuesday that government troops were attacked by regular Russian soldiers outside the eastern city of Luhansk.
Casualties have been mounting in the area. Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that six people were killed and 24 injured on government-held territory in the fighting during the past 24 hours. A separatist leader, Eduard Basurin, said that five people were killed and 30 injured inside the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday asked the parliament in Kiev to increase the country’s armed forces by 68,000 to 250,000 soldiers.
He added that Ukraine’s defence budget amounts to 90 billion hryvna (5.7 billion dollars) this year, or 5.2 per cent of GDP.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Switzerland’s Neue Zuercher Zeitung in an interview published Wednesday that a political solution to the conflict was only possible if Ukraine had a strong army.
Poroshenko said the army was not only defending the country, but also Europe.
“The frontline in the battle for Europe’s freedom and democracy is in Ukraine,” he said, adding that the conflict has helped in bringing his country closer to the European Union and NATO.
He claimed that between 8,000 and 9,500 Russian soldiers are in eastern Ukraine, citing intelligence information.
Poroshenko was to address the World Economic Forum in Davos later on Wednesday.
He will head home after his speech because of stepped-up fighting in Ukraine, his spokesman Svetoslav Tseholko said.