Germany, France seek four-way talks on eastern Ukraine conflict on November 29
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BERLIN/KIEV (Reuters) - Germany and France have invited Ukraine and Russia to meet in Minsk next week for four-way talks aimed at kick-starting peace talks on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday.
Steinmeier said he hoped the foreign ministers from all four countries could meet next Tuesday, weeks before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is due to take office.
"Even if we don't manage to find the big solution for the crisis, talks like these are simply necessary to make sure the situation doesn't get out of control," Steinmeier told parliament.
It remains unclear how Trump, who has promised to improve ties with Russia, will respond to continued fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists.
Interfax Ukraine quoted Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin as saying he had spoken with Steinmeier about the possible meeting on Nov. 29.
The four countries last met in the so-called 'Normandy Format' in October in an effort to kick-start implementation of the 2015 Minsk peace deal.
European diplomats worry that Russia, emboldened by Trump's promise to reset Washington's ties with Moscow, could launch new offensives in Ukraine before Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.
A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said invitations to the new meeting on Ukraine had been sent but a date had not yet been agreed by all parties.
The last Normandy Format meeting resulted in an agreement to extend a withdrawal of troops to four new areas in Ukraine's Donbass region. But monitors for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have said similar pledges to disengage elsewhere on the front line have not been honored.
The conflict erupted in 2014 and has killed nearly 10,000 so far. Kiev and NATO accuse Russia of stoking the separatist movement and supporting the rebels with troops and weapons. The Kremlin denies these charges and accuses Ukraine of perpetuating the violence and violating the Minsk deal.
European diplomats fear the situation could get worse if Washington aligns itself increasingly with Moscow. Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and threatened to abandon U.S. allies in Europe if they do not spend enough on defense.
Most of the terms of the original Minsk agreement, including restoring control of Ukraine's eastern borders to Kiev and holding regional elections, have yet to be implemented. The OSCE reports ceasefire violations on a daily basis, including regular mortar- and gunfire.
Since the start of November, 10 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 56 wounded on the front line, according to Reuters calculations based on daily data from the Ukrainian military.
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Kiev, Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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