German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday it's uncertain whether a flurry of diplomacy aimed at calming the crisis in Ukraine will succeed, and warned that there are no guarantees any deal would stick.
Merkel, speaking after two days of hastily arranged meetings in Kiev and Moscow, also bluntly underlined her opposition to the idea of supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government – a move being considered by the White House.
The urgent diplomacy comes as anxiety over the worsening conflict grows. More than 5,300 people have been killed since fighting began in April, according to a U.N. tally.
Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 26 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours, Kiev’s military said Saturday, after pro-Russia separatists stepped up shelling of government forces.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande proposed a broader demilitarized zone in Ukraine and greater autonomy for the pro-separatist eastern region. In an interview with France 2 television, he said a plan under negotiation would see a 30 to 45-mile demilitarized zone.
Negotiators aim to draw up a possible joint document on implementing the much-violated September peace deal concluded in Minsk, Belarus. "This conflict cannot be resolved by military means," Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference, which was also attended by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
"It is all the more important now to set out substantial steps that serve to fill with life the Minsk agreement." Merkel said of the talks that "it is uncertain whether they will be successful, but it is from my point of view and that of the French president in any case worth making this attempt."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he "sincerely" hopes the latest diplomatic drive "will produce results, and those results will be supported by the parties to this conflict."
The United States and other Western countries contend Russia has supplied troops and equipment to the separatists in eastern Ukraine who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since April. Russia denies the claims.
Merkel held a three-way meeting with Kiev’s president and Biden after her appearance at the conference.
- Alastair Jamieson
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.