Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed some limited optimism about a possible ceasefire ahead of talks with separatists. Meanwhile, NATO leaders condemned Russia - and are considering further sanctions.
Speaking at the NATO summit on the eve of Friday talks in Minsk, Poroshenko (pictured above) voiced cautious optimism about the possibility of a ceasefire with pro-Russian separatists.
Poroshenko - who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin before heading to the NATO summit in Wales as a guest - told delegates he was prepared to order a cessation of hostilities, should a deal be signed in the Belarusian capital.
The Minsk discussions are set to involve representatives of the separatist movement as well Russian and Ukrainian governments.
Fighting between the separatists and government troops has been going on since April, with the UN estimating that nearly 2,600 people have died.
"Ukraine is fighting for peace," Poroshenko told a news conference. "It's Ukraine which pays the highest price every single day, losing lives of soldiers… innocent civilians."
Poroshenko even shared his guarded optimism with Twitter followers.
Meanwhile, NATO leaders who met near the Welsh city of Newport expressed their unanimous support for Ukraine, vowing to back Ukraine's fight against pro-Russia separatists. In a statement, the alliance's 28 heads of state and government joined Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in accusing Russia of orchestrating the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
But NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has urged Moscow to stay out of Ukraine, said he was skeptical of Russia's intentions ahead of the Minsk talks.
"If recent statements from President Putin represent a genuine effort to find a political solution, I would welcome it because that's exactly what we need: a constructive political process," Rasmussen said.
"However, what counts is what is actually happening on the ground, so it remains to be seen what it is, and I have to say that previously we have seen similar statements and initiatives and they have been a smoke screen for continued Russian destabilization of the situation in Ukraine."
Likelihood of more sanctions
EU and US officials were expected to announce further sanctions against Moscow on the second day of NATO talks on Friday, in response to what has been seen as a major escalation of Russian military support for the rebels.
Rebels have made substantial advances in recent weeks, beating back a government push to retake Donetsk and Luhansk, and opening up a new front along the Sea of Azov, near to the key port city of Mariupol.
Ukrainian troops on Thursday said they had been attacked by regular Russian troops on the outskirts of Mariupol. The Kremlin has consistently denied that it is aiding the rebels.
NATO has said it may send more ships, planes and troops to reassure allies in eastern Europe. However, it stopped short of saying it might establish permanent bases in former Warsaw Pact countries.
rc/lw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)