Kiev: Ukraine's pro-European leaders and Kremlin-backed rebels agreed today to hold long-delayed peace talks, as Russia reeled from a currency crisis and faced still more sanctions from the West.
Sunday's meeting in the Belarussian capital Minsk was announced hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel placed a late-night call to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Their first reported exchange in weeks was later joined by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his French counterpart Francois Hollande.
Western powers have noted a recent diplomatic softening from Russia that coincides with the onset of the most severe and potentially long-lasting crisis of Putin's 15-year rule.
The ruble's white-knuckle plunge in value has set off talk of a panicked bank run,directly imperilling the stability Putin espoused and Russians valued after the mayhem of the early post-Communist years.
Visiting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she and Poroshenko "shared the impression that there might be... some more willingness to solve the conflict on the Russian side, on President Putin's side."
Poroshenko said on a visit to Poland he hopes will result in future arms sales that "there is hope that a meeting of the trilateral contact group will happen Sunday in Minsk."
A top separatist later confirmed that talks also involving European and Russian envoys would indeed go ahead for the first time since a similar September 5 gathering produced a tenuous truce.
"There will be a meeting in Minsk, but its agenda has not been fully agreed," Donetsk rebel commander Alexander Zakharchenko told Russia's RIA Novosti state new agency.
Another Donetsk rebel said the conference had been held up by Kiev's refusal to discuss its suspension of pension payments and other basic social services in rebel-held lands in the industrial east.
"The Ukrainian side particularly refuses to talk about lifting its economic blockade and other economic issues," Denis Pushilin told AFP by telephone.
Updated Date: Dec 18, 2014 10:15 AM