Germany's Merkel presses Putin on Ukraine separatists

The German government says Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged President Vladimir Putin to use Russia's influence with separatists in eastern Ukraine to help secure progress toward a political solution.

Merkel's office said the two leaders spoke by phone Tuesday at Putin's request. The call came a day after Merkel met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Berlin and nearly a year after Germany and France brokered a peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Merkel said the security situation in eastern Ukraine must be improved, a cease-fire kept to and international observers given unrestricted access to the conflict zone to enable further progress.

On Monday, Merkel made clear that she doesn't see grounds for lifting economic sanctions against Russia at present. In December, the European Union extended the sanctions through July.