BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have urged Russia to use its influence on rebels in eastern Ukraine so that a meeting on a possible cease-fire can take place as soon as possible.
Merkel’s spokesman said she and Hollande called President Vladimir Putin on Thursday morning.
Steffen Seibert said the German and French leaders stressed that the “contact group” made up of representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should meet as soon as possible with representatives of pro-Russian rebels, and “Russia should use its means of influence” to ensure that.
Seibert said all three agreed that a cease-fire and avoiding further civilian victims should be a top priority.
Divisions appear among Ukraine’s eastern rebels
The call came as divisions became increasingly evident among the pro-Russia separatists fighting the Ukrainian government.
The head of one influential rebel battalion in eastern Ukraine says he will not submit to the command of the military leader of the separatist insurgency.
Vostok commander Alexander Khodakovsky also said Thursday he would not abandon the rebel-held city of Donetsk even if ordered to do so. No such order has been issued, but rebel troops did flee from their stronghold in Slovyansk last weekend.
In the past two weeks, Ukrainian government troops have halved the amount of territory held by the rebels. Now they are vowing a blockade of Donetsk.
In another sign of deteriorating morale among rebels, several dozen militia fighters in Donetsk abandoned their weapons and fatigues Thursday, telling their superiors they were returning home.