KIEV: US and EU leaders have heaped pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin to help his Western-backed counterpart in Ukraine end a separatist insurgency, as the clock ticks down on a shaky truce.
US President Barack Obama warned Wednesday that additional sanctions would be in store if Russia does not move swiftly to reduce tensions in restive eastern Ukraine.
In a telephone call with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama also vowed he would press Russia to persuade separatist groups to abide by the fragile ceasefire agreement and “stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border”, the White House said.
Kiev and Washington still accuse Putin of covertly arming the rebels in retaliation for the February ouster of a pro-Russian administration.
US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Obama Wednesday, saying at NATO talks in Brussels that Russia must take “many concrete” steps to de-escalate the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Rebel commanders had agreed Monday to a temporary ceasefire set by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
However Poroshenko on Tuesday night threatened to unleash a powerful new military campaign after the downing by a pro-Russian militia of an army helicopter, killing nine servicemen outside the rebel bastion of Slavyansk, and the loss of two troops in sporadic attacks.
The 48-year-old chocolate tycoon´s ominous warning dented hopes of the sides mediating an end to 11 weeks of guerrilla warfare that has killed more than 435 people and brought the nation of 46 million to the brink of collapse.
The truce is set to end Friday after just two rounds of inconclusive talks. Poroshenko joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande for an urgently-agreed conference call with Putin Wednesday, which Paris said lasted more than an hour.
The French presidency said Hollande and Merkel “encouraged” Putin and Poroshenko to “work together, especially in order to put in place a mechanism to oversee the truce”.
Poroshenko´s office added that the four agreed to continue the talks on Thursday in order to discuss a series of proposals made by Merkel that may be difficult for the Kremlin to accept.
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