Kremlin urges France and Germany to stop Ukraine conflict crossing 'dangerous line'

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian service member walks along fighting positions near Avdiivka

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Thursday urged France and Germany to use their influence with the Ukrainian government to make sure that events in the part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed rebels did not "cross a dangerous line".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow was seriously concerned by a rise in violence on the contact line between the rebels and Ukrainian government forces.

Ukraine pushed back against the remarks, saying Russia should instead order the forces it controls in Donbass to observe the ceasefire, and blamed Moscow for obstructing progress in new prisoner swaps and troop withdrawals.

Russian-backed forces seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine in 2014, including the industrial cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kyiv blames Moscow for engineering the uprising, and providing troops and arms that led to its escalation into a full-blown war. Moscow denies the accusation.

Major combat ended with a truce agreed in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015, whose implementation France and Germany have helped to oversee. But sporadic fighting continues in the conflict that Kyiv says has killed about 14,000 people.

In recent weeks clashes have become more frequent, sparking concern from international monitors, and at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed this year.

On Thursday, the Kremlin accused Kyiv's forces of shelling in breach of the ceasefire agreement and entering areas where they were not meant to be.

Ukraine's military accused pro-Russian forces of shelling its positions to provoke them into returning fire and opening themselves up to accusations from Moscow. It said Russian-backed forces had violated the ceasefire four times within 24 hours.

The Kremlin said it was using its own influence with pro-Russian separatists to try to calm tensions.

"We also hope all our partners in the ... (Normandy) quartet will pay attention to the growing tension on the contact line and will use their influence to prevent this escalation from crossing a dangerous line," Peskov said.

"A red line would be the resumption of full-scale hostilities," said Peskov.

The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have met from time to time in the so-called Normandy format to discuss implementation of the peace deal.

"Rhetoric about approaching the 'dangerous line' falls into the logic of war, which the Kremlin still has not been able to reject," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told Interfax Ukraine.

"We do not need to call on Germany and France to use their influence, but order the armed groups controlled by Moscow to observe the ceasefire."

(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams in Kyiv; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn, Kevin Liffey, Alexandra Hudson)