German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe, but warned that the West will need "patience and staying power" to deal with the problem.
Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing excuses or justifies Russia's annexation of Crimea and nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."
She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."
But she suggested there was no swift solution to the problems posed by Russia's seizure of Crimea in March and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, where more than 4,300 people have been killed since April in a conflict between the rebels and government forces.
"Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power," Merkel said.
Merkel said Germany would use all opportunities it can for "achieving a diplomatic solution in a dialogue with Russia."
But with fighting continuing despite a September 5 cease-fire, she said economic sanctions against Russia "remain unavoidable," while "economic and political support should be provided for Ukraine."
Russia and European Union powerhouse Germany have close business ties and their relationship -- which Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear he sees as a priority -- has been badly strained by the Ukraine crisis.
Merkel's remarks reflect growing German frustration over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting the separatists, who have seized control of large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
A recent visit to Kyiv and Moscow by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met with Putin, failed to produce a breakthrough.
Merkel spoke a day after Ukraine leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to the separatists.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyinis said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.
Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.
"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynis.
Russia denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence of direct military support for the separatists.
Rebels have proclaimed "people's republics" in the two provinces and held elections on November 2 that were condemned by Kyiv and the West as illegal violations of the September 5 cease-fire deal agreed in Minsk, which was signed by Russia and which set out other steps toward peace.
Kyiv and Western governments fear Putin may want the pro-Russian rebels to seize more ground in Ukraine or solidify control over the territory they hold, creating a "frozen conflict" that could destabilize the country, drain its economy, and hamper its efforts to integrate with Europe.
The conflict has also caused concern among Russia's neighbors that it could seek control of more territory, and has brought Moscow's relations with the West to post-Cold War lows.
Ties had already been badly damaged by Russia's annexation of Crimea, which followed the flight of a Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych from Ukraine after months of protests over his November decision to spurn a political and economic pact with the European Union and turn toward Moscow instead.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS