MOSCOW (AP) — Russia must do more to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine to abide by a cease-fire that has been strained in recent weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday during a visit to Moscow.
Merkel's trip was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany, which has been celebrated with particular exuberance in Russia this year despite the fact that many western leaders have not attended due to tensions over Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict.
Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference, Merkel said the past week's creation of groups to negotiate a lasting settlement of the dispute in Ukraine provided a "glimmer of hope" but that progress was lacking elsewhere.
Ukraine says more than 8,000 people have died in the conflict that began in April 2014 between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Putin and Merkel on Sunday met for the first time since mid-February, when they both participated in painstaking cease-fire negotiations that led within days to a sharp diminution in the fighting. The agreement required the warring sides to pull back heavy weapons from the front line and exchange all prisoners, but progress in those and other areas has been piecemeal.
Putin said Ukraine continued to carry the bulk of responsibility for bringing about a settlement.
"We will use all the influence we have on the leadership in Donetsk and Luhansk to ensure the process proceeds at the required pace and attains the necessary level," Putin said.
The West accuses Russia of giving separatists in Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian regions vast amounts of weapons and manpower. Russia denies those claims.
As Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine continue to bite, Russia has appeared to pivot away from Europe and focus more on developing relations with China.
For the World War II commemoration, Merkel laid a wreath Sunday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the walls of the Kremlin.
On Saturday, Russia showed off its new war machines, including a highly sophisticated tank, in the annual Victory Day military parade through Red Square.
The Armata tank drew strong applause as it rumbled past, part of a convoy that ranged from WWII-era equipment to the most modern. Also on view for the first time at the parade was a lumbering RS-24 Yars ICBM launcher, along with several new, smaller vehicles.