MOSCOW – Russia's foreign minister says talks with his counterparts from Ukraine, France and Germany will focus on pulling back heavy weapons from a redrawn frontline in east Ukraine.
Sergey Lavrov, who is set to attend the talks in Berlin later Wednesday, said the withdrawal of artillery should help end a recent escalation of fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels.
Lavrov said that continuing violations of a truce in the east were rooted in the failure to respect a division line agreed in September in peace talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Lavrov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had written a letter to his Ukrainian counterpart proposing to use the original division line to conduct the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Lavrov said that the current frontline differs from the original division line because the rebels had made some gains. He argued that using the original line of separation would help quickly de-escalate the fighting, which killed at least six civilians on Tuesday.
"We need to fulfill the main goal: protect the civilian population," Lavrov said, and stressed that Russia had persuaded the rebels to abide by the original line of division and pull out heavy weapons.
He emphasized that a settlement in eastern Ukraine could be achieved only if the Ukrainian government fulfills its pledge to provide broad autonomy to the east and provide security guarantees to the rebels.
Lavrov rejected Ukrainian and Western allegations that Russia was supporting the rebellion with troops and weapons, insisting that they have failed to provide facts to support the claims.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 4,700 people since April.