Obama Calls Putin on Eve of Talks to Negotiate Ukraine Truce

President Barack Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to address Russia’s support for rebel separatists battling the government in Kiev.

The call, announced by the White House, was made a day before representatives from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany were set to meet in Minsk, Belarus, to negotiate a truce.

Obama “underscored the rising human toll of the fighting and underscored the importance of President Putin seizing the opportunity presented by the ongoing discussions,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama also spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday to discuss the status of truce negotiations, according to the White House.

After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, Obama said that the U.S. would consider sending lethal military aid to Ukraine’s government if negotiations fail to bring a resolution. He’s also pledged financial support to bolster Ukraine’s teetering economy, which the country’s central bank estimates it shrank 6.7 percent last year.

Aid Package

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said Tuesday progress has been made to mobilize an international bailout package for Ukraine in the past few days.

Putin has accused the U.S. and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of trying to encircle Russia and back it into a corner, warning against weapons supplies to its western neighbor.

As the fighting has continued in Ukraine, the U.S. and European Union nations are threatening more economic sanctions against Russia. European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to delay an expansion of sanctions against Russia in a bid to give negotiators a chance in Wednesday’s truce talks.

Ukrainian troops began a new offensive, breaking through rebel positions near the eastern port city of Mariupol. Their main eastern headquarters was hit by a rocket attack that also struck a nearby residential area, the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council said.

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