That concludes our live-blogging of the Ukraine crisis for Thursday, September 29, 2016. Check back here tomorrow for more of our continuing coverage. Thanks for reading and take care.
WATCH: Who Shot Down MH17? The View From Moscow And Kyiv
Russian Officials Dig In On MH17, As Critics Decry 'Politics Of Denial'
MOSCOW -- A series of denials by Russian officials and state-media allegations of bias and foul play present a view that is starkly discrepant with international criminal investigators' findings, announced this week, over the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The Joint Investigation Team's (JIT) interim conclusions were that the passenger jet was shot down by a Russian-made missile system smuggled into separatist territory then spirited back over the border into Russia.
The Russian counternarrative after the release of the JIT report also introduces at least one new conspiracy theory and was decried by liberal opposition voices and the independent newspaper Vedomosti, which criticized the Kremlin’s perceived “politics of denial,” saying they would increase Russia’s international isolation.
Russia has consistently rejected considerable evidence -- including recovered pieces of shrapnel, phone chatter among Moscow-backed separatists, and the geolocation of telltale photographs, among other things -- that points to the involvement of anti-Kyiv forces in eastern Ukraine in the shoot-down, which killed all 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.
Read the full story by RFE/RL's Tom Balmforth here.
Merkel, Putin Speak About Ukraine Conflict, Syria
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stabilize a fragile cease-fire in Ukraine and do all he can to improve what Merkel called a "catastrophic humanitarian situation" in Syria.
A German government spokesman said Merkel made the remarks in a September 29 phone call with Putin.
Earlier, the Kremlin said Merkel and Putin had agreed on a schedule for future contacts about Ukraine’s conflict under a format that would bring together the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France.
The Kremlin statement said the two discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine within the framework of "reactivating work for a full implementation of the Minsk agreements."
The German government spokesman said Merkel had urged Putin to continue to implement the Minsk peace accord of 2015, which is designed to end the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.