The presidents of Russia and Ukraine have begun what promise to be difficult multilateral talks in the Belarusian capital. The comes at a time of extremely high tension between the two neighboring countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko greeted each other by shaking hands as they began talks hosted by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on Tuesday.
The meeting is also being attended by European Union officials, including the 28-member bloc's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton.
Lukashenko opened the meeting by urging both leaders to "discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend."
In Putin's first reported comments at the talks, the Russian president stressed that the fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine could not be resolved through an escalation in the use of force, but only through dialogue with regional leaders.
Poroshenko reiterated that he was prepared to listen to the concerns of the Russian-speaking population in the east of Ukraine.
"The fate of my country and Europe is being decided here in Minsk today," Poroshenko said. "The interests of Donbas have been and will be taken into account."
However, he also warned that the bloodshed could only stop after supplies of weapons to the separatists were halted and effective border controls were established.
Rare face-to-face talks
The meeting, the first between Putin and Poroshenko in almost three months, comes at a time when the already tense relations between Moscow and Kyiv promised to be even frostier, after reports that Ukrainian troops had claimed to have captured 10 Russian soldiers who had crossed into the country.
Kyiv's security forces posted a video on their Facebook page on Monday that purported to show the captured soldiers, who identified themselves and their unit. The authenticity of the video has not been independently verified.
In the footage, a man identifies himself as Ivan Milchakov and says that he's with a paratroop regiment based in the Russian town of Kostroma.
"I did not see where we crossed the border," Milchakov said. "They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometer march over three days."
Russia's Ria Novosti news agency also reported that the paratroopers had accidentally strayed into Ukraine, quoting an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry source.
But Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the Russian soldiers were sent into Ukraine on a mission, without providing details.
"This wasn't a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out," Lysenko said in a televised briefing.
This came a day after Kyiv said an armored column including 10 tanks had crossed into eastern Ukraine in a bid to open a second front in fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russia separatists.
About 2,200 people have been killed during the past four months of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
pfd/se (AP, Reuters, AFP)
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