Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for immediate talks on the “statehood” of southern and eastern Ukraine, but his spokesman clarified this doesn’t mean Moscow is now endorsing the rebels’ call for independence for territory they have seized, Reuters reported.
This came as Europe and the United States prepared possible further sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine, the report said.
Meanwhile, US Democratic and Republican lawmakers urged Washington to arm the Ukrainian government, saying it needed help to repel what they called Russia’s invasion of the country.
Senator Robert Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN the US, European Union and NATO should work together to arm Kiev, which has been fighting Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine for months.
“We … should be providing the Ukrainians with the types of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression,” the New Jersey Democrat was quoted as saying.
President Barack Obama last week ruled out US military action over Ukraine and called for a diplomatic solution.
Putin’s remarks were interpreted in Western media as implying support for the rebels’ demand for independence, but his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebel independence.
Asked if “New Russia”, a term pro-Moscow rebels use for their territory, should still be part of Ukraine, Peskov said: “Of course.”
“Only Ukraine can reach an agreement with New Russia, taking into account the interests of New Russia, and this is the only way to reach a political settlement.”
Germany voiced suspicions that Moscow might be trying to create a land corridor to supply Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in March, while the four-month conflict moved onto the sea for the first time on Sunday, Reuters said. The separatists said they had fired on a Ukrainian vessel in the Azov Sea using land-based artillery, and a military spokesman in Kiev said a rescue operation was under way.
Ukrainian troops and local residents were reinforcing the port of Mariupol on Sunday, the next big city in the path of pro-Russian fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea this past week in an offensive on a new front.
Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other’s territory near the battlefield, where Kiev says Moscow’s forces have come to the aid of pro-Russian insurgents, tipping the military balance in the rebels’ favor.
Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organization of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine”, Putin told state television.
Moscow, for its part, he said, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.
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