MOSCOW (AP) — Germany's foreign minister, on a shuttle mission between the Ukrainian and Russian capitals, called Tuesday for quickly drawing a division line between the government troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine to save a floundering peace deal.
Even though the cease-fire agreement signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk in September has been repeatedly violated it offers the best chance possible to end months of fighting that has killed more than 4,000 people, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after talks in Moscow.
"It would be a huge loss to reject that document," Steinmeier said.
He made a similar point in Kiev earlier in the day, saying that "Minsk remains a reference point, and that's why I call for us to keep working on the implementation of the Minsk protocol."
Steinmeier argued that it's necessary to "give a new impulse" to the Minsk agreement. He said that the parties are close to reaching an agreement on the line of division, adding that once it's done the warring sides could proceed with the next step under the Minsk deal and start pulling heavy artillery back from the frontline.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke in support of quickly drawing the line of division.
The Minsk protocol failed to produce a clear line of division and fighting has continued to rage around the main rebel-held city of Donetsk and other strategic areas as both warring sides have sought to extend their gains.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of violating the deal by continuing to back the rebels with troops and weapons and supporting regional elections held by the insurgents. Moscow denies those allegations.
"We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk agreements," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
Speaking in London, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said "Russia has to be consistently reminded of its obligations under the Minsk protocol," adding that the EU "will continue to apply pressure to Russia until it complies with those obligations."
John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels, Frank Jordans in Berlin and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.