France, Germany Press Putin to Sway Separatists

France and Germany raised pressure on President Vladimir Putin to push pro-Russian separatists to reach an agreement with Ukraine, as they stepped up diplomacy aimed at reinstating a cease-fire within 48 hours.

President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel called Putin today and “stressed the importance” of seeking a truce between Ukraine and the separatists and defining its conditions, Hollande’s office said in a statement.

“To this end, they have asked President Putin to intervene with the separatists to lead them to negotiate and to find an agreement with the Ukrainian authorities,” the French president’s office said. Merkel and Hollande plan to speak separately by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “in the coming hours,” according to the statement.

The call by Merkel and Hollande, who have become the main conduit to Putin during the conflict for Europe and the U.S., coincided with reports of continued skirmishes in the eastern part of Ukraine that borders Russia. With the violence unabated, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia agreed at a meeting in Berlin yesterday to work for a comprehensive cease-fire in another round of talks by July 5.

Ukraine’s hryvnia strengthened against the dollar, rising 0.3 percent and trimming its loss this year to 30 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Russia’s ruble fell 0.9 percent.

‘Key Role’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking to reporters in Moscow today, said that “our Western colleagues” must now adopt “the key role” in persuading the Kiev authorities to heed the appeal for a truce.

“This refers to the meeting as soon as possible of the contact group to agree on a bilateral basis a durable, lasting cease-fire, agreed between the two parties and not on a unilateral basis,” he said.

Poroshenko, who ended a unilateral cease-fire this week amid continued clashes, discussed the situation with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden today, his office said in a statement.

While the Ukrainian leader said he’s ready to resume peace talks without any additional conditions, he stressed that a truce could only come about after he gets confirmation it will be observed by separatists, and once all hostages are released and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are monitoring the border with Russia.

Hundreds Dead

With the EU and the U.S. considering expanding sanctions against Russia, Poroshenko ended the truce on July 1, blaming pro-Russian insurgents for more than 100 violations in 10 days.

The expiration of the cease-fire renews a conflict that’s claimed hundreds of lives. Ukraine and its U.S. and European allies say the separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are backed by Putin’s government, which Russia denies.

Ukraine’s parliament today approved Poroshenko’s nominee, Valeriy Geletey, as defense minister, replacing Mykhaylo Koval. Geletey pledged security and peace for his nation.

Amid the continued violence, several shells from the Ukrainian side targeted the Russian border checkpoint Novashakhtinsk, the Interfax news agency reported today, citing Vasiliy Malayev, a spokesman for the regional branch of Russia’s Border Service. There were no casualties with only some infrastructure damage reported, Interfax said.

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