German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has raised doubts about the prospects of a four-way Ukraine peace summit on February 11, suggesting it is not yet certain the proposed gathering in Minsk will take place.
Steinmeier said In Brussels on February 9 that there was still much work to be done on “open points” before the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany would meet.
Meanwhile, ahead of a vote on new sanctions targeting Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians for their role in the conflict, EU foreign ministers in Brussels disagreed on whether Ukrainian government forces should be supplied with weapons.
That issue also was expected to be the focus of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks in Washington later on February 9 with President Barack Obama.
Merkel was expected to once again voice Germany's opposition to calls for the United States to begin arming the Ukrainian military.
Germany announced the Minsk summit during the weekend after a phone conversation between Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin on February 9 said Putin would not accept ultimatums over Ukraine.
Putin has suggested the Minsk summit was still tentative, saying during bilateral talks in Sochi with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that the meeting would not take place if the four leaders failed to agree on a "number of points" before February 11.
Putin, who was due to arrive in Cairo on February 9 for a two-day visit to Egypt, said in an interview with the Egyptian state newspaper Al-Ahram that Ukraine's government should cease military operations in eastern Ukraine and stop exerting economic pressure on separatist-held regions, warning that Kyiv was on a "dead-end track, fraught with a big catastrophe."
He said: "The most important condition for the stabilization of the situation is immediate cease-fire and ending" of what he called a "punitive operation in the southeast of Ukraine."
Putin's remarks follow an exchange of heated words over Ukraine during the weekend at a security conference in Munich.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accused Russia of sending troops into Ukraine and playing a direct military role in Ukraine’s civil war.
Biden said on February 7 that pro-Russian separatist leaders and the "trained fighters" in eastern Ukraine "directly answer" to Putin.
He also said Putin faces a choice to either "get out" of Ukraine or face "continued international isolation" and domestic economic problems.
Others have expressed hope that a meeting on February 11 would conclude with fresh commitments to a cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk in September 2014 that has been repeatedly violated.
In a statement on his website, Poroshenko expressed confidence the Minsk summit would lead to a "swift and unconditional cease-fire" between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists they are battling in eastern Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on February 8 sought to fend off any suggestion of a Transatlantic rift on Ukraine, saying "there is no division" between the United States and the European Union.
Kerry said the EU and Washington are united on diplomacy and agree that Ukraine’s war "will not end through military force."
But he said the longer diplomacy takes, "the more we will be forced to raise the costs on Russia and its proxies."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and Interfax