BERLIN (AP) — The foreign ministers of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France were unable to make enough progress in closed-door meetings Monday on the Ukrainian crisis to move ahead with a higher-level summit.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said their four-hour meeting was a "very open exchange" but did not produce the results needed for the countries to go ahead with a meeting of their leaders in Kazakhstan that had been proposed for Thursday.
He said representatives from their ministries would meet instead in the coming days to see if they could bridge differences, and raised the possibility that the foreign ministers could meet again after that.
"If there is progress made at that level in the coming days, then we are prepared to meet again next week and resume this discussion we began today," he told reporters.
Steinmeier called the Berlin meeting following a flurry of diplomacy, including a brief weekend encounter in Paris between the German, French and Ukrainian leaders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and met the president of Kazakhstan, the possible host of a four-way summit on Ukraine.
Merkel and Steinmeier are pushing for progress on implementing a much-violated Ukraine peace deal drawn up in September. But Berlin says a substantial narrowing of differences between Ukraine and Russia is needed for a summit to take place.
Following the Steinmeier's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, the four issued a joint statement calling for the contact group of Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE to meet to try and make progress on implementing the September peace deal.
They said this must include "the creation of the relevant conditions for an effective cease-fire, an agreement on modalities for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the continuation of the release of detainees."
If this is done, it would "pave the way to the preparation of a successful summit meeting" in Kazakhstan, they wrote.
As it stands, the two sides have remained wide apart. Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels have failed to agree on a front line and fighting in eastern Ukraine has escalated in recent days.
Ahead of the Berlin meetings, Lavrov sternly warned Ukraine against trying to crush the pro-Russian rebellion by force. He said Russia expects the West to use its influence with Kiev to discourage it from launching another offensive, adding that it "will be a catastrophe."
The separatist leader in the city of Donetsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, told local television Monday that Ukraine has been violating a truce agreement.
Since last week, heavy artillery has been booming around Donetsk. Zakharchenko said artillery attacks by Ukrainian forces indicated Kiev is unilaterally backing away from the peace process.
"If we understand that things cannot be settled peacefully, we will have to solve through force instead," he said.
Ukraine denies violating the cease-fire and accused the separatists of mounting sustained artillery attacks across the front line — 63 on Sunday alone.
The rebellion flared in Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking east following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March. More than 4,700 people have died in the fighting, the U.N. says.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.
By DAVID RISING (Associated Press)