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Ukraine

Steinmeier emphasizes importance of Ukraine May 25 elections

"National dialogue" is of the utmost importance for Ukraine's stability, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has said. The diplomat traveled to Kyiv to help find a way to defuse a potentially explosive crisis.

Speaking in Kyiv on Tuesday, Germany's top diplomat pledged further support for a "national dialogue" in Ukraine, where two provinces in the country's east voted to become autonomous over the weekend. The referendum - considered illegitimate by not only Kyiv, but also the EU and the US - threatens to further destabilize the politically shaky eastern European country.

Because the situation in eastern Ukraine was still "threatening and dangerous," leaders from Kyiv and the separatist opposition must begin taking steps toward holding a "national dialogue," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured left) told reporters. The comments followed a meeting with caretaker Ukranian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (pictured right).

The German foreign minister also called on officials to make sure that as many Ukrainians as possible participated in upcoming May 25 elections, which could help ease tensions. Kyiv has been ruled by an interim government since February's ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, forced out of office by months of mass popular protests.

"I hope that elections ... [will help usher in] an atmosphere that points Ukraine forward," Steinmeier added.

Steinmeier's visit came just days after separatists in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk held referenda to become autonomous regions. On Monday, the pro-Russian leader in Donestk, Denis Pushilin, said the vote reflected the "will of the people," requesting Moscow to annex the region into the Russian Federation.

During his one-day trip to Ukraine, the German foreign minister was also scheduled to travel to the southwestern coastal city of Odessa, where pro- and anti-government counterrallies have claimed dozens of lives.

Ukraine PM: Moscow holds 'the key'

Yatsenyuk also commented on the crisis in his country following Tuesday's meeting with Steinmeier.

He emphasized, however, that Russia must withdraw its political support from separatists.

"Moscow - not Kyiv - holds the keys for restabilizing Ukraine," Yatsenyuk told reporters.

Known instances of Russian involvement have already prompted the US and the EU to issue travel bans and asset freezes for close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The latest set of sanctions were levied after the Sunday vote because of "the absence of any steps towards de-escalation [in Ukraine]" by Russia.

He also welcomed the participation of former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger in a "round table" discussion to take place on Wednesday. However, he differed in Steinmeier's opinion of how efforts at mediation should move forward, emphasizing that he favored the previous model of participation by Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US, while excluding separatists.

kms/mkg (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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