More Ukrainian soldiers die as Hollande warns that talks could be last opportunity for peace

French and German leaders have voiced doubts that the latest talks will work

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The Independent Online

Five more Ukrainian soldiers have died as fighting continues to rage with pro-Russian rebels while politicians scramble to thrash out a new peace deal.

Hours of talks between European leaders and Vladimir Putin ended without an agreement on the crisis yesterday and Francois Hollande believes these talks could be the last chance at a peaceful resolution.

“If we don't manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, it's called war,” the French President warned after returning to France.

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A rebel comforts a wife of a killed civilian in shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine

More than 5,000 people have been killed so far in the conflict, including civilians hit by shelling and caught in the crossfire between government troops and rebels.

Pro-Russian separatists have stepped up shelling of government forces on front lines and appear to be massing forces for new offensives on the key railway town of Debaltseve and the coastal city of Mariupol, the government military said on Saturday.

Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours.

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Families waiting for a bus to evacuate them from Debaltseve, Ukraine

Angela Merkel voiced doubts on whether a deal can be reached or maintained at a meeting attended by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US Vice President Joe Biden today.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, the German Chancellor said it was “uncertain whether (the talks) will be successful” and cautioned that previous truces, such as the ceasefire that collapsed in September, had not been “good experiences”.

But Ms Merkel also said the floated option of the US sending more arms to Ukrainian government forces would not work either.

“I understand the debate but I believe that more weapons will not lead to the progress Ukraine needs. I really doubt that,” she added. “There is already a large number of weapons in the region and I don't see that this has made a military solution more likely.”

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Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande flew to Moscow for emergency talks with Vladimir Putin yesterday

The Chancellor and President Hollande flew home from Moscow in the dead of night after five hours of talks with Putin on Friday that yielded little beyond a promise to keep talking.

Ms Merkel is flying to Washington on Sunday to meet Barack Obama, when President Poroshenko is due to receive a peace plan described as “constructive and substantive”.

Philip Hammond insisted the UK remains a “key player” in the peace process after a former Nato commander said the Prime Minister had become “a diplomatic irrelevance” in the crisis.

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The Prime Minister was called a 'diplomatic irrelevance'.

The Foreign Secretary dismissed General Sir Richard Shirreff’s description of David Cameron as “ludicrous”.

Mr Hammond was in Germany today to meet with other foreign ministers over the progress made.

It was pressure from the UK that ensured tough sanctions were imposed that pushed Mr Putin to the negotiating process in the first place, he said.

“We are about to sit down here and have a meeting to discuss where we go now, what the options are,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“We will decide, together, what is the best way to go forward. The United States and the United Kingdom will be at that table with France and Germany.

"What is being painted is a ludicrous proposition that France and Germany are somehow doing their own thing. It is inconceivable that without the United States there will be a solution to this crisis.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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