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Ukraine

Ukraine presses ahead with post-ceasefire offensive

Kyiv has pushed on with its drive against separatists in eastern Ukraine despite frantic international efforts to end hostilities. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russian and Ukraine have met in Berlin.

Ukrainian troops pressed ahead with an offensive against pro-Russian separatists on Wednesday, despite diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting.

"The armed forces and the National Guard are continuing the offensive on terrorists and criminals," parliament speaker Oleksander Turchynov said. "The actions of our military are effective and are having results."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said troops were carrying out airstrikes and artillery attacks "to counter the obvious risk of terrorist bands attacking civilian objects."

The Ukrainian border guard service said a soldier had been killed in mortar attacks on the Russian frontier on Wednesday. A military spokesman claimed an SU-24 attack plane had been damaged by a shoulder-launched missile, with the pilot subsequently destroying the enemy position.

Kyiv's offensive was launched after President Petro Poroshenko refused to extend a unilateral ceasefire with militants on Monday.

Poroshenko accuses Moscow of stoking the conflict and by allowing fighters and military equipment to cross the border from Russia in support of the rebels. While the decision not to renew the ceasefire won support from the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Poroshenko had veered from the path of peace.

Talks have 'no precise objective'

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russian and Ukraine were due to meet in Berlin later on Wednesday, in a bid to find some common ground on the crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to the meeting with France's Laurent Fabius and Ukraine's Pavlo Klimkin during a phone conversation on Tuesday with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"We will not stop looking for diplomatic solutions" said German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the talks, also warning that tough "level two" sanctions could be applied against Russia. "The German foreign minister will host the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers today. But we are nowhere near where we want to be."

However, diplomats have cautioned against expecting too much from the talks. "There is not a precise objective. It's an opportunity to work on peace efforts, but we don't want to raise expectations," a French diplomatic source was reported as saying by the DPA news agency on Tuesday.

Separatism erupted in April in the Russian-speaking eastern republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where rebels seized buildings and strategic points and declared "people's republics."

rc/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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